Cancer cells are insensitive to many signals that inhibit growth of untransformed cells. Here, we show that primary human epithelial cells expressing human papillomavirus (HPV) type-16 E6/E7 bypass arrest caused by the DNA-damaging drug adriamycin and become tetraploid. To determine the contribution of E6 in the context of E7 to the resistance of arrest and induction of tetraploidy, we used an E6 mutant unable to degrade p53 or RNAi targeting p53 for knockdown. The E6 mutant fails to generate tetraploidy; however, the presence of E7 is sufficient to bypass arrest while the p53 RNAi permits both arrest insensitivity and tetraploidy. We published previously that polo-like kinase 1 (Plk1) is upregulated in E6/E7-expressing cells. We observe here that abnormal expression of Plk1 protein correlates with tetraploidy. Using the p53 binding-defective mutant of E6 and p53 RNAi, we show that p53 represses Plk1, suggesting that loss of p53 results in tetraploidy through upregulation of Plk1. Consistent with this hypothesis, overexpression of Plk1 in cells generates tetraploidy but does not confer resistance to arrest. These results support a model for transformation caused by HPV-16 where bypass of arrest and tetraploidy are separable consequences of p53 loss with Plk1 required only for the latter effect.