Luteolin is an antioxidative, antitumor and anti-inflammatory flavone. It has been shown to reduce endothelial dysfunction, but the mechanism is not clear. We set out to explore the effects of luteolin on apoptosis and its mechanism of action in endothelial cells. The effect of luteolin on pyrogallol-induced superoxide stress and the subsequent apoptosis was studied in the mouse heart capillary endothelial cell line H5V and human umbilical vein endothelial cells, by the use of flow cytometry, 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyl-tetrazolium bromide, Hoechst staining, and western blot. Pyrogallol (0–400 μm) dose-dependently induced reactive oxygen species production, cytotoxicity, an annexin V–fluorescein isothiocyanate increase, mitochondrial transmembrane depolarization and DNA condensation in both H5V and human umbilical vein endothelial cells; these actions were reversed by luteolin (0.78–50 μm) in a concentration-dependent manner. Luteolin suppressed the poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase activation, caspase-8 cleavage and p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase activation triggered by pyrogallol, and stimulated the extracellular signal-regulated kinase signaling pathway to counteract the pyrogallol-induced apoptotic signals. Luteolin is an effective agent for the protection of endothelial cells from superoxide stress-induced apoptosis via the extracellular signal-regulated kinase signaling pathway.