Although bacterial gyrase and topoisomerase IV have critical interactions with positively supercoiled DNA, little is known about the actions of these enzymes on overwound substrates. Therefore, the abilities of Bacillus anthracis and Escherichia coli gyrase and topoisomerase IV to relax and cleave positively supercoiled DNA were analyzed. Gyrase removed positive supercoils ∼10-fold more rapidly and more processively than it introduced negative supercoils into relaxed DNA. In time-resolved single-molecule measurements, gyrase relaxed overwound DNA with burst rates of ∼100 supercoils per second (average burst size was 6.2 supercoils). Efficient positive supercoil removal required the GyrA-box, which is necessary for DNA wrapping. Topoisomerase IV also was able to distinguish DNA geometry during strand passage and relaxed positively supercoiled substrates ∼3-fold faster than negatively supercoiled molecules. Gyrase maintained lower levels of cleavage complexes with positively supercoiled (compared with negatively supercoiled) DNA, whereas topoisomerase IV generated similar levels with both substrates. Results indicate that gyrase is better suited than topoisomerase IV to safely remove positive supercoils that accumulate ahead of replication forks. They also suggest that the wrapping mechanism of gyrase may have evolved to promote rapid removal of positive supercoils, rather than induction of negative supercoils.