In patients with acute bacterial meningitis, hearing loss can be transient but is often permanent. The mechanisms underlying meningitis-associated hearing loss are not fully understood. Therefore, we investigated the morphological correlates of hearing loss in a rat model of pneumococcal meningitis. Transcutaneous intracisternal injection of Streptococcus pneumoniae resulted in a dose-dependent hearing loss (determined by auditory brainstem response audiometry), which was partially reversible during the acute stage. Nevertheless, a severe permanent hearing loss persisted until 2 weeks after infection. Suppurative labyrinthitis was accompanied by blood-labyrinth barrier disruption (determined by cochlear Evans blue extravasation), which correlated closely with hearing loss during the acute stage but not after recovery. Two weeks after infection, spiral ganglion neuronal density was markedly decreased and correlated with the severity of permanent hearing loss. Neuronal loss can be explained by the new finding of meningitis-associated spiral ganglion neuronal necrosis rather than apoptosis (determined by morphology, TUNEL staining, and immunohistochemistry).