The end-Permian mass extinction, the most severe biotic crisis in the Phanerozoic, was accompanied by climate change and expansion of oceanic anoxic zones. The partitioning of sulfur among different exogenic reservoirs by biological and physical processes was of importance for this biodiversity crisis, but the exact role of bioessential sulfur in the mass extinction is still unclear. Here we show that globally increased production of organic matter affected the seawater sulfate sulfur and oxygen isotope signature that has been recorded in carbonate rock spanning the Permian-Triassic boundary. A bifurcating temporal trend is observed for the strata spanning the marine mass extinction with carbonate-associated sulfate sulfur and oxygen isotope excursions toward decreased and increased values, respectively. By coupling these results to a box model, we show that increased marine productivity and successive enhanced microbial sulfate reduction is the most likely scenario to explain these temporal trends. The new data demonstrate that worldwide expansion of euxinic and anoxic zones are symptoms of increased biological carbon recycling in the marine realm initiated by global warming. The spatial distribution of sulfidic water column conditions in shallow seafloor environments is dictated by the severity and geographic patterns of nutrient fluxes and serves as an adequate model to explain the scale of the marine biodiversity crisis. Our results provide evidence that the major biodiversity crises in Earth's history do not necessarily implicate an ocean stripped of (most) life but rather the demise of certain eukaryotic organisms, leading to a decline in species richness.