Repair of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) in mammals is coordinated by the ubiquitin-dependent accumulation of 53BP1 at DSB-flanking chromatin. Owing to its ability to limit DNA-end processing, 53BP1 is thought to promote nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ) and to suppress homology-directed repair (HDR). Here, we show that silencing 53BP1 or exhausting its capacity to bind damaged chromatin changes limited DSB resection to hyper-resection and results in a switch from error-free gene conversion by RAD51 to mutagenic single-strand annealing by RAD52. Thus, rather than suppressing HDR, 53BP1 fosters its fidelity. These findings illuminate causes and consequences of synthetic viability acquired through 53BP1 silencing in cells lacking the BRCA1 tumor suppressor. We show that such cells survive DSB assaults at the cost of increasing reliance on RAD52-mediated HDR, which may fuel genome instability. However, our findings suggest that when challenged by DSBs, BRCA1- and 53BP1-deficient cells may become hypersensitive to, and be eliminated by, RAD52 inhibition.