There is considerable insight into pathways and genes associated with heat-stress conditions. Most genes involved in stress response have been identified using mutant screens or gene knockdowns. Yet, there is limited understanding of the temporal dynamics of global gene expression in stressful environments. Here, we studied global gene expression profiles during 12 hours of heat stress in the nematode C. elegans. Using a high-resolution time series of increasing stress exposures, we found a distinct shift in gene expression patterns between 3–4 hours into the stress response, separating an initially highly dynamic phase from a later relatively stagnant phase. This turning point in expression dynamics coincided with a phenotypic turning point, as shown by a strong decrease in movement, survival and, progeny count in the days following the stress. Both detectable at transcriptional and phenotypic level, this study pin-points a relatively small time frame during heat stress at which enough damage is accumulated, making it impossible to recover the next few days.