Early spring cold spells can lead to leaf chlorosis during the rice seedling greening process. However, the physiological and molecular mechanisms underlying the rice greening process under low-temperature conditions remain unknown. In this study, comparative transcriptome and morphophysiological analyses were performed to investigate the mechanisms mediating the responses of the Koshihikari (Kos) and Kasalath (Kas) rice cultivars to chilling stress. According to their growth-related traits, electrolyte leakage, and chlorophyll fluorescence parameters, Kos was more tolerant to low-temperature stress than Kas. Moreover, chloroplast morphology was more normal (e.g., oval) in Kos than in Kas at 17 °C. The comparative transcriptome analysis revealed 610 up-regulated differentially expressed genes that were common to all four comparisons. Furthermore, carotenoid biosynthesis was identified as a critical pathway for the Kos response to chilling stress. The genes in the carotenoid biosynthesis pathway were expressed at higher levels in Kos than in Kas at 17 °C, which was in accordance with the higher leaf carotenoid content in Kos than in Kas. The lycopene β-cyclase and lycopene ε-cyclase activities increased more in Kos than in Kas. Additionally, the increases in the violaxanthin de-epoxidase and carotenoid hydroxylase activities in Kos seedlings resulted in the accumulation of zeaxanthin and lutein and mitigated the effects of chilling stress on chloroplasts. These findings have clarified the molecular mechanisms underlying the chilling tolerance of rice seedlings during the greening process.