Protein misfolding in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is accompanied by adaptive cellular responses to promote cell survival. We now show that activation of mitochondrial respiration is a critical component of an adaptive ER stress response, requiring the unfolded protein response (UPR) sensor Ire1, and also calcium signaling via calcineurin. In yeast and mammalian cells lacking Ire1 or calcineurin, respiratory activation is impaired in response to ER stress; accumulation of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS) triggers cell death as abrogation of ROS by antioxidants or loss of the electron transport chain (in yeast) can rescue cells from death. Significantly, cells are rescued from ER stress-induced death by mitochondrial uncoupling by CCCP to increase O2 consumption (and increase the efficiency of electron transfer). Remarkably, genetic and pharmacologic strategies to promote mitochondrial biogenesis and increase O2 consumption also alleviate ER stress-mediated ROS and death in yeast and mammalian cells. Moreover, in a yeast genetic screen, three mitochondrial proteins Mrx9, Mrm1, and Aim19 that increase mitochondrial biogenesis were identified as high copy suppressors of ER stress-mediated cell death. Our results show that enhanced mitochondrial biogenesis, linked to improved efficiency of the electron transport chain, is a powerful strategy to block ROS accumulation and promote cell survival during ER stress in eukaryotic cells.