Unraveling the mechanisms underlying oscillatory behavior is critical for understanding normal and pathological brain processes. Here we used electrophysiology in mouse neocortical slices and principles of nonlinear dynamics to demonstrate how an increase in the N-methyl-d-aspartic acid receptor (NMDAR) conductance can create a nonlinear whole-cell current–voltage (I–V) relationship which leads to changes in cellular stability. We discovered two behaviorally and morphologically distinct pyramidal cell populations. Under control conditions, both cell types responded to depolarizing current injection with regular spiking patterns. However, upon NMDAR activation, an intrinsic oscillatory (IO) cell type (n = 44) showed a nonlinear whole-cell I–V relationship, intrinsic voltage-dependent oscillations plus amplification of alternating input current, and these properties persisted after disabling action potential generation with tetrodotoxin (TTX). The other non-oscillatory (NO) neuronal population (n = 24) demonstrated none of these behaviors. Simultaneous intra- and extracellular recordings demonstrated the NMDAR’s capacity to promote low-frequency seizure-like network oscillations via its effects on intrinsic neuronal properties. The two pyramidal cell types demonstrated different relationships with network oscillation – the IO cells were leaders that were activated early in the population activity cycle while the activation of the NO cell type was distributed across network bursts. The properties of IO neurons disappeared in a low-magnesium environment where the voltage dependence of the receptor is abolished; concurrently, the cellular contribution to network oscillation switched to synchronous firing. Thus, depending upon the efficacy of NMDAR in altering the linearity of the whole-cell I–V relationship, the two cell populations played different roles in sustaining network oscillation.