Ischemia causes AKI as a result of ATP depletion, and rapid recovery of ATP on reperfusion is important to minimize tissue damage. ATP recovery is often delayed, however, because ischemia destroys the mitochondrial cristae membranes required for mitochondrial ATP synthesis. The mitochondria-targeted compound SS-31 accelerates ATP recovery after ischemia and reduces AKI, but its mechanism of action remains unclear. Here, we used a polarity-sensitive fluorescent analog of SS-31 to demonstrate that SS-31 binds with high affinity to cardiolipin, an anionic phospholipid expressed on the inner mitochondrial membrane that is required for cristae formation. In addition, the SS-31/cardiolipin complex inhibited cytochrome c peroxidase activity, which catalyzes cardiolipin peroxidation and results in mitochondrial damage during ischemia, by protecting its heme iron. Pretreatment of rats with SS-31 protected cristae membranes during renal ischemia and prevented mitochondrial swelling. Prompt recovery of ATP on reperfusion led to rapid repair of ATP-dependent processes, such as restoration of the actin cytoskeleton and cell polarity. Rapid recovery of ATP also inhibited apoptosis, protected tubular barrier function, and mitigated renal dysfunction. In conclusion, SS-31, which is currently in clinical trials for ischemia-reperfusion injury, protects mitochondrial cristae by interacting with cardiolipin on the inner mitochondrial membrane.