After the 1977–78 NHL season, Barons owners Gordon and George Gund III tried to buy the Richfield Coliseum, but failed. Meanwhile, fan interest in the North Stars was in decline as the team had missed the playoffs in five of the previous six seasons, and the league feared that the franchise was also on the verge of folding. On June 14, 1978 the league, in an unprecedented arrangement, granted approval for the Barons to merge with the North Stars, under the Gunds' ownership.
A stay-at-home defenceman who was selected by the California Golden Seals in the 1975 NHL Draft, Greg Smith followed the franchise when it relocated to Cleveland in 1976, and when it folded in 1978 and merged with the Minnesota North Stars, where his rights were protected by the North Stars in the 1978 Cleveland-Minnesota Dispersal Draft. He played for Minnesota for three seasons, and his solid defensive play would help guide them to the finals in 1981.
Thirteen years later, in 1991, the merger would effectively be undone as the Gunds assumed ownership of the expansion San Jose Sharks (occupying the same market as the Seals did prior to their move to Cleveland) and the two teams split the players on the North Stars at the time in a Dispersal Draft, followed by an Expansion Draft. The North Stars would move to Dallas as the Dallas Stars in 1993. (Incidentally, the Barons name would come full circle: the Sharks formed their own minor-league team in Cleveland, also named the Cleveland Barons, from 2001 to 2006.)
The Barons remain the last franchise in the four major North American sports leagues to cease operations, and as a result the NHL fielded only 17 teams during the 1978–79 season. The NHL would not return to Ohio for 22 years, when the Columbus Blue Jackets began operations in the fall of 2000.
Dennis Maruk was the last Baron (and last Golden Seal as well) to be active in the NHL, retiring from the North Stars after the 1988-89 season with 356 goals in 888 games.