This study investigated tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α)-mediated death pathway contribution to hydroquinone (HQ) cytotoxicity in human leukemia U937 cells. HQ-induced apoptosis of human leukemia U937 cells was characterized by the increase in mitochondrial membrane depolarization, procaspase-8 degradation and tBid production. Downregulation of Fas-associated death domain protein (FADD) blocked HQ-induced procaspase-8 degradation and rescued the viability of HQ-treated cells, suggesting the involvement of a death receptor-mediated pathway in HQ-induced cell death. HQ induced increased TNF-α mRNA stability led to TNF-α protein expression upregulation, whereas HQ suppressed TNF-α-mediated NFκB pathway activation. HQ elicited protein phosphatase 2A catalytic subunit α (PP2Acα) upregulation via p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK)-mediated CREB/c-Jun/ATF-2 phosphorylation, and PP2Acα upregulation was found to promote tristetraprolin (TTP) degradation. Suppression of p38 MAPK activation and protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) activity abrogated TNF-α upregulation and procaspase degradation in HQ-treated cells. Overexpression of TTP suppressed HQ-induced TNF-α upregulation and restored the viability of HQ-treated cells. Moreover, TTP overexpression increased TNF-α mRNA decay in HQ-treated cells. Taken together, our data indicate that HQ elicits TNF-α upregulation via p38 MAPK/PP2A-mediated TTP downregulation, and suggest that the TNF-α-mediated death pathway is involved in HQ-induced U937 cell death. The same pathway was also proven to be involved in the HQ-induced death of human leukemia HL-60 and Jurkat cells.