Escherichia coli encodes two rel loci, both of which contribute to the control of synthesis of macromolecules during amino acid starvation. The product of relA (ppGpp synthetase I) is responsible for the synthesis of guanosine tetraphosphate, ppGpp, the signal molecule that exerts stringent control of stable RNA synthesis. The second rel locus, relBE, was identified by mutations in relB that confer a so-called 'delayed-relaxed response' characterized by continued RNA synthesis after a lag period of approximately 10 min after the onset of amino acid starvation. We show here that the delayed-relaxed response is a consequence of hyperactivation of RelE. As in wild-type cells, [ppGpp] increased sharply in relB101 relE cells after the onset of starvation, but returned rapidly to the prestarvation level. RelE is a global inhibitor of translation that is neutralized by RelB by direct protein-protein interaction. Lon protease activates RelE during amino acid starvation by degradation of RelB. We found that mutations in relB that conferred the delayed-relaxed phenotype destabilized RelB. Such mutations confer severe RelE-dependent inhibition of translation during amino acid starvation, indicating hyperactivation of RelE. Hyperactivation of RelE during amino acid starvation was shown directly by measurement of RelE-mediated cleavage of tmRNA. The RelE-mediated shutdown of translation terminated amino acid consumption and explains the rapid restoration of the ppGpp level observed in relB mutant cells. Restoration of the prestarvation level of ppGpp, in turn, allows for the resumption of stable RNA synthesis seen during the delayed-relaxed response.