The herpes simplex virus genome consists of two components, L and S, which invert relative to each other during viral replication. The a sequence is present at the genomic termini in direct orientation and at the L-S junction in inverted orientation. Previously, we showed that insertion of a fragment spanning the L-S junction into the viral genome causes additional inversions. In this study, we determine the nucleotide sequence of the genomic termini and show that insertion of either the free S terminus or the L terminus causes inversions in the viral genome. We conclude that the a sequence is the inversion-specific sequence, that linear unit-length molecules packaged in virions are generated by cleavage between adjacent copies of the a sequence, that cleavage produces 3' single-base extensions on the genomic termini and that the signal for cleavage is contained within the a sequence.