Warming of the global climate is now unequivocal and its impact on Earth’ functional units has become more apparent. Here, we show that marine ecosystems are not equally sensitive to climate change and reveal a critical thermal boundary where a small increase in temperature triggers abrupt ecosystem shifts seen across multiple trophic levels. This large-scale boundary is located in regions where abrupt ecosystem shifts have been reported in the North Atlantic sector and thereby allows us to link these shifts by a global common phenomenon. We show that these changes alter the biodiversity and carrying capacity of ecosystems and may, combined with fishing, precipitate the reduction of some stocks of Atlantic cod already severely impacted by exploitation. These findings offer a way to anticipate major ecosystem changes and to propose adaptive strategies for marine exploited resources such as cod in order to minimize social and economic consequences.