Endonuclease IV belongs to a class of important apurinic/apyrimidinic endonucleases involved in DNA repair. Although a structure-based mechanistic hypothesis has been put forth for this enzyme, the detailed catalytic mechanism has remained unknown. Using thermodynamic integration in the context of ab initio quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics molecular dynamics, we examined certain aspects of the phosphodiester cleavage step in the mechanism. We found the reaction proceeded through a synchronous bimolecular (A(N)D(N)) mechanism with reaction free energy and barrier of -3.5 and 20.6 kcal/mol, in agreement with experimental estimates. In the course of the reaction the trinuclear active site of endonuclease IV underwent dramatic local conformational changes: shifts in the mode of coordination of both substrate and first-shell ligands. This qualitative finding supports the notion that structural rearrangements in the active sites of multinuclear enzymes are integral to biological function.