A 30-d feeding trial was conducted to investigate effects of dietary eucommia ulmoides leaf extract (ELE) on growth performance, activities of digestive enzymes, antioxidant capacity, immunity, expression of inflammatory factors and feeding-related genes of large yellow croaker larvae. Five micro-diets were formulated with supplementation of 0 g kg−1 (the control), 5 g kg−1 (0·5 %), 10 g kg−1 (1·0 %) and 20 g kg−1 (2·0 %) of ELE, respectively. Results showed that the best growth performance was found in larvae fed the diet with 1·0 % ELE. Furthermore, ELE supplementation significantly increased the npy expression at 1·0 % dosage, while increased ghrelin in larvae at 0·5 % dosages. The activity of leucine aminopeptidase in larvae fed the diet with 1·0 % ELE was significantly higher than the control, while alkaline phosphatase was significantly upregulated in larvae fed the diet with 2·0 % ELE. A clear increase in total antioxidant capacity in larvae fed the diet with 1·0 % ELE was observed, whereas catalase activity was significantly higher in 1·0 % and 2·0 % ELE supplementation compared with the control. Larvae fed the diet with 1·0 % ELE had a significantly higher activities of lysozyme, total nitric oxide synthase and nitric oxide content than the control. Moreover, transcriptional levels of cox-2, il-1β and il-6 were remarkably downregulated by the supplementation of 0·5–1·0 % ELE. This study demonstrated that the supplementation of 1·0 % ELE in diet could increase the growth performance of large yellow croaker larvae probably by promoting expression of feeding-related genes, enhancing antioxidant capacity and immunity and inhibiting expression of inflammatory factors.