The Magpies struggled during the 1960s, being on the brink of financial ruin and striving to avoid the indignity of having to apply for re-election to the league. This situation continued until Jack Dunnett, a local Member of Parliament, took control of the club. He appointed Jimmy Sirrel, a charismatic Scot who had once played for Celtic F.C., as manager in November 1969. In the 1970–71 season, The Magpies clinched the Fourth Division title in record-breaking style, remaining unbeaten at Meadow Lane.
Two seasons later, Notts County were again promoted, this time to Division Two. It marked an amazing turnaround in form under Sirrel and would also renew meetings with old adversaries Forest. Sirrel departed for Sheffield United in October 1975 but returned two years later.
Sirrel completed the remarkable transformation of Notts County in May 1981. He had turned The Magpies from Fourth Division strugglers to a top division side in little over a decade, ending an absence of fifty-five years from the top flight. This achievement was with the same chairman (Jack Dunnett) and trainer (Jack Wheeler) throughout the decade.
In one of the most famous moments in the club's modern history, Notts County visited newly crowned champions Aston Villa on the opening day of the season. The Villa team had paraded their League Championship trophy to an expectant crowd before kickoff, but against all odds, County came away with a 1–0 victory. After surviving relegation at the end of the season, Sirrel became the club's general manager, with his assistant Howard Wilkinson taking over as manager. County survived relegation a little more comfortably the following season, but Wilkinson was tempted away by the manager's job at his boyhood club, Sheffield Wednesday, and the board recruited former Wigan Athletic manager Larry Lloyd to replace him. Despite a good run to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, where they eventually lost to Everton, the club had a poor league campaign that ultimately resulted in their relegation. This poor form continued into the following season, resulting in Lloyd's dismissal with the club bottom of the Second Division. Richie Barker took over as manager, but failed to improve the club's fortunes, and was dismissed after less than six months in charge.
Jimmy Sirrel took charge of the team once again, and while the club's form improved, it came too late, and County suffered their second successive relegation. After two decent but unremarkable finishes in the Third Division, Sirrel finally retired in 1987, bringing to a close one of the most successful and memorable periods in Notts County's history. He was replaced by John Barnwell, who nearly steered the club to automatic promotion in the season that followed, but a late stumble meant they had to settle for the play-offs, where they lost to eventual winners Walsall. The team failed to repeat their form the following season and instead found themselves battling relegation to the Fourth Division, resulting in Barnwell being dismissed just before Christmas.
In late 1988, a new manager arrived. Neil Warnock had previously led Scarborough into the Football League as champions of the Football Conference. At the end of his first full season, Warnock had led Notts County to promotion back to Division Two. The club anthem The Wheelbarrow song originated during this season, stemming from the club's historic first game at Wembley Stadium in a 2–0 win over Tranmere Rovers. A famous 1–0 victory over Manchester City in the FA Cup booked them a place in the quarter-final, which they lost to eventual winners Tottenham Hotspur. Notts County also booked their second successive visit to Wembley and their second successive promotion. The Magpies defeated Brighton & Hove Albion 3–1 in front of 60,000 spectators, 25,000 of which were Notts County fans.
The following season was disappointing, seeing Notts County relegated from the top flight after just one season back there. Their first game of that season was a prestigious visit to Manchester United at Old Trafford, where they lost 2–0. However, they did manage to hold the Reds to a 1–1 draw in the return game at Meadow Lane just after the turn of the year, as United began a dismal second half of the season which ultimately cost them the league title. County's relegation came shortly after the sale of strikers Paul Rideout and Tommy Johnson, which raked in nearly £2million in total and contributed towards a £5million stadium revamp which saw Meadow Lane rebuilt on three sides shortly afterwards.[
With the introduction of the Premier League, County were relegated from the old Division One to the new Division One. Warnock was dismissed in January 1993 and was succeeded by Mick Walker. Walker successfully averted a second consecutive relegation.
The Magpies narrowly missed the play-offs for promotion to the Premiership. The season is most remembered for a 2–1 victory over arch rivals Nottingham Forest in which Charlie Palmer scored the winning goal with just four minutes remaining. Notts had led for much of the game, until Forest got a free kick from which they equalised. Notts fans were reluctantly resigning thenselves to a draw, when Palmer headed in the winner. This was all the more remarkable because he only scored 4 goals in his whole career. The game has become a celebrated event among Notts County fans, who have dubbed 12 February (the anniversary of the game) Sir Charlie Palmer Day, and Charlie Palmer has been referred to as "Sir Charlie" by Notts fans ever since. In March 1994, Notts County lost the Anglo-Italian Cup final to Brescia.
Walker was surprisingly sacked in September 1994. This event triggered a dramatic decline in the club's fortunes that has persisted to the present. Notts won the Anglo-Italian Cup at Wembley in March 1995, but ended the season relegated to Division Two, with Walker, Russell Slade, Howard Kendall and Steve Nicol each taking control of the team at different times throughout the season, before the club appointed yet another manager, Colin Murphy after the season ended. County made another visit to Wembley Stadium in the 1996 play-off final, but missed the chance of a return to Division One with a 2–0 defeat to Bradford City.
The following season ranks among the club's worst, as they managed just seven victories all season and finished in the bottom position of the league table. Relegation to the league's basement division happened just six years after promotion to the top flight. However, success followed relegation under Sam Allardyce. The Magpies secured the Division Three title in March 1998 by a record margin of seventeen points. They became the first side since World War II to win promotion in mid-March, with six games still remaining.