The bifurcation of the solutions of the nonlinear equilibrium problem of a weightless liquid bridge with a free surface pinned to the edges of two coaxial equidimensional circular disks is examined. The bifurcation is studied in the neighborhood of the stability boundary for axisymmetric equilibrium states with emphasis on the boundary segment corresponding to nonaxisymmetric critical perturbations. The first approximations for the shapes of the bifurcated equilibrium surfaces are obtained. The stability of the bifurcated states is then determined from the bifurcation structure. Along the maximum volume stability limit, depending on values of the system parameters, loss of stability with respect to nonaxisymmetric perturbations results in either a jump or a continuous transition to stable nonaxisymmetric shapes. The value of the slendemess at which a change in the type of transition occurs is found to be Λs=0.4946. Experimental investigation based on a neutral buoyancy technique agrees with this prediction. It shows that, for Λ<Λs, the jump is finite and that a critical bridge undergoes a finite deformation to a stable nonaxisymmetric state. © 1997 American Institute of Physics.