Glacial episodes have been linked to Ordovician-Silurian extinction events, but cooling itself may not be solely responsible for these extinctions. Teratological (malformed) assemblages of fossil plankton that correlate precisely with the extinction events can help identify alternate drivers of extinction. Here we show that metal poisoning may have caused these aberrant morphologies during a late Silurian (Pridoli) event. Malformations coincide with a dramatic increase of metals (Fe, Mo, Pb, Mn and As) in the fossils and their host rocks. Metallic toxins are known to cause a teratological response in modern organisms, which is now routinely used as a proxy to assess oceanic metal contamination. Similarly, our study identifies metal-induced teratology as a deep-time, palaeobiological monitor of palaeo-ocean chemistry. The redox-sensitive character of enriched metals supports emerging `oceanic anoxic event' models. Our data suggest that spreading anoxia and redox cycling of harmful metals was a contributing kill mechanism during these devastating Ordovician-Silurian palaeobiological events.