Spontaneous activity plays an important role in the function of neural circuits. Although many similarities between spontaneous and sensory-evoked neocortical activity have been reported, little is known about consistent differences between them. Here, using simultaneously recorded cortical populations and morphologically identified pyramidal cells, we compare the laminar structure of spontaneous and sensory-evoked population activity in rat auditory cortex. Spontaneous and evoked patterns both exhibited sparse, spatially localized activity in layer 2/3 pyramidal cells, with densely distributed activity in larger layer 5 pyramidal cells and putative interneurons. However, the propagation of spontaneous and evoked activity differed, with spontaneous activity spreading upward from deep layers and slowly across columns, but sensory responses initiating in presumptive thalamorecipient layers, spreading rapidly across columns. The similarity of sparseness patterns for both neural events and distinct spread of activity may reflect similarity of local processing and differences in the flow of information through cortical circuits, respectively.