Gross chromosomal rearrangements (GCRs), such as translocations, deletions or inversions, are often generated by illegitimate repair between two DNA breakages at regions with nucleotide sequences that might potentially adopt a non-B DNA conformation. We previously established a plasmid-based model system that recapitulates palindrome-mediated recurrent chromosomal translocations in humans, and demonstrated that cruciform DNA conformation is required for the translocation-like rearrangements. Here we show that two sequential reactions that cleave the cruciform structures give rise to the translocation: GEN1-mediated resolution that cleaves diagonally at the four-way junction of the cruciform and Artemis-mediated opening of the subsequently formed hairpin ends. Indeed, translocation products in human sperm reveal the remnants of this two-step mechanism. These two intrinsic pathways that normally fulfil vital functions independently, Holliday-junction resolution in homologous recombination and coding joint formation in rearrangement of antigen-receptor genes, act upon the unusual DNA conformation in concert and lead to a subset of recurrent GCRs in humans.