Ocean deoxygenation driven by global warming and eutrophication is a primary concern for marine life. Resistant animals may be present in dead zone sediments, however there is lack of information on their diversity and metabolism. Here we combined geochemistry, microscopy, and RNA-seq for estimating taxonomy and functionality of micrometazoans along an oxygen gradient in the largest dead zone in the world. Nematodes are metabolically active at oxygen concentrations below 1.8 µmol L-1, and their diversity and community structure are different between low oxygen areas. This is likely due to toxic hydrogen sulfide and its potential to be oxidized by oxygen or nitrate. Zooplankton resting stages dominate the metazoan community, and these populations possibly use cytochrome c oxidase as an oxygen sensor to exit dormancy. Our study sheds light on mechanisms of animal adaptation to extreme environments. These biological resources can be essential for recolonization of dead zones when oxygen conditions improve.