Nitrite (NO2−) can cause oxidative stress in aquatic animal when it accumulates in the organism, resulting in different toxic effects on fish. In the present study, we investigated the effects of nitrite exposure on the antioxidant enzymes and glutathione system in the liver of Bighead carp (Aristichthys nobilis). Fish [Initial average weight: (180.05 ± 0.092) g] were exposed to 48.634 mg/L nitrite for 96 h, and a subsequent 96 h for the recovery test. Fish livers were collected to assay antioxidant enzymes activity, hepatic structure and expression of genes after 0 h, 6 h, 12 h, 24 h, 48 h, 72 h, 96 h of exposure and 12 h, 24 h, 48 h, 72 h, 96 h of recovery. The results showed that the activity of glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px), glutathione S-transferase (GST), and glutathione reductase (GR) increased significantly in the early stages of nitrite exposure. The study also showed that nitrite significantly up-regulated the mRNA levels of glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px), glutathione S-transferase (GST), and glutathione reductase (GR) after 6, 48, and 72 h of exposure respectively. Nitrite also increased the formation of malondialdehyde (MDA), oxidized glutathione (GSSG), and the activity of catalase (CAT). Nitrite was observed to reduce the activity of superoxide dismutase (SOD) and the level of glutathione (GSH). In the recovery test, GSH and the GSSG recovered but did not return to pre-stress levels. The results suggested that the glutathione system played important roles in nitrite-induced oxidative stress in fish. The bighead carp responds to oxidative stress by enhancing the activity of GSH-Px, GST, GR and up-regulating the expression level of GSH-Px, GST, GR, a whilst simultaneously maintaining the dynamic balance of GSH/GSSG. CAT was also indispensable. They could reduce the degree of lipid peroxidation, and ultimately protect the body from oxidative damage.