The transverse vibration response of the organ of Corti near the apical end of the guinea-pig cochlea was measured in vivo. For cochleae in good physiological condition, as ascertained with threshold compound action potentials and the endocochlear potential, increasing amounts of attenuation and phase lag were found as the intensity was decreased below 80 dB SPL. These nonlinear phenomena disappeared post mortem. The data suggest that an active, nonlinear damping mechanism exists at low intensities at the apex of the cochlea. The phase nonlinearity, evident at all frequencies except at the best frequency (BF), was limited to a total phase change of 0.25 cycles, implying negative feedback of electromechanical force from the outer hair cells into a compliant organ of Corti. The amplitude nonlinearity was largest above BF, possibly due to interaction with a second vibration mode. The high-frequency flank of the amplitude response curve was shifted to lower frequencies by as much as 0.6 octave (oct) for a 50-dB reduction of sound intensity; the reduction of BF was 0.3 oct, but there was no change of relative bandwidth (Q(10 dB)). Detailed frequency responses measured at 60 dB SPL were consistent with non-dispersive, travelling-wave motion: travel time to the place of BF (400 Hz at 60 dB SPL) was 2.9 ms, Q(10 dB) was 1.0; standing-wave motion occurred above 600 Hz. Based on comparison with neural and mechanical data from the base of the cochlea, amplitudes at the apex appear to be sufficient to yield behavioural thresholds. It is concluded that active negative feedback may be a hallmark of the entire cochlea at low stimulus frequencies and that, in contrast to the base, the apex does not require active amplification.