The ruthenium-catalyzed [2 + 2] and homo Diels–Alder [2 + 2 + 2] cycloadditions of norbornadiene with disubstituted alkynes are investigated using density functional theory (DFT). These DFT calculations provide a mechanistic explanation for observed reactivity trends with different functional groups. Alkynyl phosphonates and norbornadiene form the [2 + 2 + 2] cycloadduct, while other functionalized alkynes afford the respective [2 + 2] cycloadduct, in excellent agreement with experimental results. The computational studies on the potential energy profiles of the cycloadditions show that the rate-determining step for the [2 + 2] cycloaddition is the final reductive elimination step, but the overall rate for the [2 + 2 + 2] cycloaddition is controlled by the initial oxidative cyclization. Two distinct mechanistic pathways for the [2 + 2 + 2] cycloaddition, cationic and neutral, are characterized and reveal that Cp*RuCl(COD) energetically prefers the cationic pathway.