During sleep and awake rest, the neocortex generates large-scale slow-wave (SW) activity. Here, we report that the claustrum coordinates neocortical SW generation. We established a transgenic mouse line that enabled the genetic interrogation of a subpopulation of claustral glutamatergic neurons. These neurons received inputs from and sent outputs to widespread neocortical areas. The claustral neuronal firings mostly correlated with cortical SW activity. In vitro optogenetic stimulation of the claustrum induced excitatory postsynaptic responses in most neocortical neurons, but elicited action potentials primarily in inhibitory interneurons. In vivo optogenetic stimulation induced a synchronized down-state featuring prolonged silencing of neural activity in all layers of many cortical areas, followed by a down-to-up state transition. In contrast, genetic ablation of claustral neurons attenuated SW activity in the frontal cortex. These results demonstrate a crucial role of claustral neurons in synchronizing inhibitory interneurons across wide cortical areas for the spatiotemporal coordination of SW activity.