It is unclear whether the reactivation of hepatitis B virus (HBV) influences the prognosis of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) after resection in patients with chronic hepatitis B. The aim of this study was to identify the influence of HBV reactivation on the recurrence of hepatitis B-related HCC after curative resection in patients with low viral load (HBV DNA <2000 IU/mL). We retrospectively analysed a total of 130 patients who underwent curative resection for HBV-related early stage HCC (single nodule; <5 cm/two or three nodules; <3 cm) with pre-operative HBV DNA levels <2000 IU/mL with serial HBV DNA tests. The predictive factors including HBV reactivation for the recurrence of HBV-related HCC after curative resection were investigated. Fifty-three patients (41%) had HBV reactivation after resection among 130 patients. HBV reactivation was observed in 22 of 53 patients with undetectable baseline HBV DNA and in 31 of 77 patients with detectable baseline HBV DNA. Cumulative recurrence rates after resection at 1, 2 and 3 years were 17.0%, 23.3% and 31.4%, respectively. The multivariable analysis demonstrated that the risk factors for the recurrence were the presence of microvascular invasion (hazard ratio (HR) 2.62, P = 0.003), multinodularity (HR 4.61, P = 0.005), HBV reactivation after resection (HR 2.03, P = 0.032) and HBeAg positivity (HR 2.06, P = 0.044). HBV reactivation after curative resection is associated with the recurrence of HBV-related HCC in patients with low viral load.