Abstract Oceanographic features influence the early stages of fish to a high degree. We investigated the influence of continental shelf-slope gradient on the ichthyoplankton composition and distribution off Northeastern Brazil. Two oceanographic campaigns were performed during July-August 2010 and 2012. The samplings were performed along three transects composed by three stations, covering the continental shelf and slope areas. Abiotic data were obtained by an ADCP and a CTD. The ichthyoplankton was sampled through diurnal and nocturnal hauls using a 500-µm bongo net from 200 m to the surface. A total of 1634 larvae and 4023 eggs, representing 91 genera and 76 species, were collected. Higher concentrations of fish eggs were found on the continental shelf, probably because of the North Brazil Undercurrent flux. Higher concentrations of larvae were found at night and could be associated with net avoidance or natural variation. Neritic, oceanic and transition groups of species association were determined. Larvae of neritic, demersal and pelagic fishes prevailed on the continental shelf, while larvae of oceanic, mesopelagic and bathypelagic fishes on the continental slope. Melanostomiidae, Scorpaena sp., Lestidium atlanticum, Lampadena sp. and Diaphus sp. were identified as indicators of the continental slope.