Tyrosine family recombinases (YRs) are widely utilized in genome engineering systems because they can easily direct DNA rearrangement. Cre recombinases, one of the most commonly used types of YRs, catalyze site-specific recombination between two loxP sites without the need for high-energy cofactors, other accessory proteins or a specific DNA target sequence between the loxP sites. Previous structural, analytical ultracentrifuge and electrophoretic analyses have provided details of the reaction kinetics and mechanisms of Cre recombinase activity; whether there are reaction intermediates or side pathways involved has been left unaddressed. Using tethered particle motion (TPM), the Cre-mediated site-specific recombination process has been delineated, from beginning to end, at the single-molecule level, including the formation of abortive complexes and wayward complexes blocking inactive nucleoprotein complexes from entering the recombination process. Reversibility in the strand-cleavage/-ligation process and the formation of a thermally stable Holliday junction intermediate were observed within the Cre-mediated site-specific recombination process. Rate constants for each elementary step, which explain the overall reaction outcomes under various conditions, were determined. Taking the findings of this study together, they demonstrate the potential of single-molecule methodology as an alternative approach for exploring reaction mechanisms in detail.