Postoperative recurrence and metastasis have crucial roles in the poor prognosis of gastric cancer patients. Previous studies have indicated that gastric cancer originates from cancer stem cells (CSCs), and some investigators have found that a particular subset of CSCs possesses higher metastatic capacity. However, the specific mechanism remains uncertain. In the present study, we aimed to explore the biological functions of the inflammatory cytokine interleukin-17 (IL-17) in gastric cancer metastasis and the distinct IL-17-induced transformation of quiescent gastric CSCs. Our results showed that invasive gastric CSCs were CD26+ and CXCR4+ and were closely associated with increased metastatic ability. The quiescent gastric CSCs, which were CD26 - and CXCR4-, were exposed to appropriate concentrations of IL-17; this resulted in the decreased expression of E-cadherin and the increased expression of vimentin and N-cadherin. In addition, the upregulation of IL-17 both in vitro and in vivo resulted in a significant induction of invasion, migration and tumor formation ability in gastric CSCs compared with the control group, which was not treated with IL-17. Further experiments indicated that the activation of the downstream phosphorylated signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) transcription factor pathway was facilitated by IL-17. On the contrary, the downregulation of STAT3 by the specific inhibitor Stattic significantly reversed the IL-17-induced epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT)-associated properties of quiescent gastric CSCs. Moreover, tumorigenesis and metastasis were suppressed. Taken together, we suggest that IL-17 is positively correlated with the transformation of quiescent gastric CSCs into invasive gastric CSCs and that targeting IL-17 may emerge as a possible novel therapeutic strategy for gastric cancer.