Previous studies have established a model of atresia in preovulatory follicles after stimulation of immature rats with equine chorionic gonadotropin (eCG). This gonadotropin recruits a follicular pool and the deprivation of preovulatory luteinizing hormone (LH) surge induces the atresia in preovulatory follicles. The present study investigated the occurrence of ovulation and provided some morphological features of granulosa cell (GC) apoptosis of atretic follicles at 0, 48, 72 and 120 h after eCG stimulation. Histological sections of ovaries from untreated animals (0 h) showed primordial, primary, secondary and early antral follicles. After 48 h ovaries showed large antral follicles. Preovulatory follicles were observed at 72 h, and two out of five rats displayed cumulus–oocyte complexes (COCs) in the oviducts. All animals exhibited corpora lutea after 120 h. We observed increased estradiol (E2) levels 48 h after eCG treatment that might trigger an endogenous preovulatory gonadotropin surge. Higher progesterone (P4) level, which is the hallmark of a functional corpus luteum, was observed at 120 h. Atresia in secondary and antral follicles was observed by pyknotic granulosa cell nuclei in histology and positive immunolabelling for cleaved caspase 3. We also observed macrophages in secondary and antral follicles in atresia. Transmission electron microscopy revealed GCs with compacted chromatin against the nuclear envelope, nuclear fragmentation, cell shrinkage and fragmentation. No preovulatory follicles showed apoptosis of GCs. In conclusion, our results suggested the occurrence of an endogenous gonadotropin surge, promoting ovulation and preventing atresia of preovulatory follicles.