After acute kidney injury (AKI), surviving cells within the nephron proliferate and repair. We identify Sox9 as an acute epithelial stress response in renal regeneration. Translational profiling after AKI revealed a rapid upregulation of Sox9 within proximal tubule (PT) cells, the nephron cell type most vulnerable to AKI. Descendants of Sox9+ cells generate the bulk of the nephron during development and regenerate functional PT epithelium after AKI-induced reactivation of Sox9 after renal injury. After restoration of renal function post-AKI, persistent Sox9 expression highlights regions of unresolved damage within injured nephrons. Inactivation of Sox9 in PT cells pre-injury indicates that Sox9 is required for the normal course of post-AKI recovery. These findings link Sox9 to cell intrinsic mechanisms regulating development and repair of the mammalian nephron.