The human brain is fragile in the face of oxygen deprivation. Even a briefinterruption of metabolic supply at birth challenges an otherwise healthy neonatal cortex, leading to a cascade of homeostatic responses. During recovery from hypoxia, cortical activity exhibits a period of highly irregular electrical fluctuations known as burst suppression. Here we show that these bursts have fractal properties, with power-law scaling of burst sizes across a remarkable 5 orders of magnitude and a scale-free relationship between burst sizes and durations. Although burst waveforms vary greatly, their average shape converges to a simple form that is asymmetric at long time scales. Using a simple computational model, we argue that this asymmetry reflects activity-dependent changes in the excitatory-inhibitory balance of cortical neurons. Bursts become more symmetric following the resumption of normal activity, with a corresponding reorganization of burst scaling relationships. These findings place burst suppression in the broad class of scale-free physical processes termed crackling noise and suggest that the resumption of healthy activity reflects a fundamental reorganization in the relationship between neuronal activity and its underlying metabolic constraints. © 2014 the authors.