The mammalian cochlea is the sensory organ of hearing with a delicate, highly organised structure that supports unique operating mechanisms. ATP release from the secretory tissues of the cochlear lateral wall (stria vascularis) triggers numerous physiological responses by activating P2 receptors in sensory, supporting and neural tissues. Two families of P2 receptors, ATP-gated ion channels (P2X receptors) and G protein-coupled P2Y receptors, activate intracellular signalling pathways that regulate cochlear development, homeostasis, sensory transduction, auditory neurotransmission and response to stress. Of particular interest is a purinergic hearing adaptation, which reflects the critical role of the P2X2 receptor in adaptive cochlear response to elevated sound levels. Other P2 receptors are involved in the maturation of neural processes and frequency selectivity refinement in the developing cochlea. Extracellular ATP signalling is regulated by a family of surface-located enzymes collectively known as “ectonucleotidases” that hydrolyse ATP to adenosine. Adenosine is a constitutive cell metabolite with an established role in tissue protection and regeneration. The differential activation of A1 and A2A adenosine receptors defines the cochlear response to injury caused by oxidative stress, inflammation, and activation of apoptotic pathways. A1 receptor agonism, A2A receptor antagonism, and increasing adenosine levels in cochlear fluids all represent promising therapeutic tools for cochlear rescue from injury and prevention of hearing loss.