Regulation of poly(ADP-ribose) (PAR) synthesis and turnover is critical to determining cell fate after genotoxic stress. Hyperactivation of PAR synthesis by poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase-1 (PARP-1) occurs when cells deficient in DNA repair are exposed to genotoxic agents; however, the function of this hyperactivation has not been adequately explained. Here, we examine PAR synthesis in mouse fibroblasts deficient in the base excision repair enzyme DNA polymerase β (pol β). The extent and duration of PARP-1 activation was measured after exposure to either the DNA alkylating agent, methyl methanesulfonate (MMS), or to low energy laser-induced DNA damage. There was strong DNA damage-induced hyperactivation of PARP-1 in pol β nullcells, but not in wild-type cells. In the case of MMS treatment, PAR synthesis did not lead to cell death in the pol β null cells, but instead resulted in increased PARylation of the nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ) protein Ku70 and increased association of Ku70 with PARP-1. Inhibition of the NHEJ factor DNA-PK, under conditions of MMS-induced PARP-1 hyperactivation, enhanced necrotic cell death. These data suggest that PARP-1 hyperactivation is a protective mechanism triggering the classical-NHEJ DNA repair pathway when the primary alkylated base damage repair pathway is compromised.