This work addresses the need for chemical tools that can selectively form cross-links. Contemporary thiol-selective cross-linkers, for example, modify all accessible thiols, but only form cross-links between a subset. The resulting terminal "dead-end" modifications of lone thiols are toxic, confound cross-linking-based studies of macromolecular structure, and are an undesired, and currently unavoidable, byproduct in polymer synthesis. Using the thiol pair of Cu/Zn-superoxide dismutase (SOD1), we demonstrated that cyclic disulfides, including the drug/nutritional supplement lipoic acid, efficiently cross-linked thiol pairs but avoided dead-end modifications. Thiolate-directed nucleophilic attack upon the cyclic disulfide resulted in thiol-disulfide exchange and ring cleavage. The resulting disulfide-tethered terminal thiolate moiety either directed the reverse reaction, releasing the cyclic disulfide, or participated in oxidative disulfide (cross-link) formation. We hypothesized, and confirmed with density functional theory (DFT) calculations, that mono- S-oxo derivatives of cyclic disulfides formed a terminal sulfenic acid upon ring cleavage that obviated the previously rate-limiting step, thiol oxidation, and accelerated the new rate-determining step, ring cleavage. Our calculations suggest that the origin of accelerated ring cleavage is improved frontier molecular orbital overlap in the thiolate-disulfide interchange transition. Five- to seven-membered cyclic thiosulfinates were synthesized and efficiently cross-linked up to 104-fold faster than their cyclic disulfide precursors; functioned in the presence of biological concentrations of glutathione; and acted as cell-permeable, potent, tolerable, intracellular cross-linkers. This new class of thiol cross-linkers exhibited click-like attributes including, high yields driven by the enthalpies of disulfide and water formation, orthogonality with common functional groups, water-compatibility, and ring strain-dependence.