We report the observation of sudden and dramatic changes in single-bubble sonoluminescence (SBSL) intensity (i.e., radiant power, Φ SL) and spectral profiles at a critical acoustic pressure (P c) for solutions of sulfuric acid (H 2SO 4) containing mixtures of air and noble gas. Nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen (N 2), and atomic oxygen emission lines are visible just below P c- At P c, very bright (factor of 7000 increase in Φ SL) and featureless SBSL is observed when Ar is present. In addition, Ar lines are observed from a dimmed bubble that has been driven above P c. These observations suggest that bright SBSL from H 2SO 4 is due to a plasma, and that molecular components of air suppress the onset of bright light emission through quenching mechanisms and endothermic processes. Determination of temperatures from simulations of the emission lines shows that air limits the heating during single-bubble cavitation. When He is present, Φ SL increases by only a factor of 4 at P c, and the SBSL spectrum is not featureless as for Ar, but instead arises from sulfur oxide (SO) and sulfur dioxide (SO 2) bands. These differences are attributed to the high thermal conductivity and ionization potential of He compared to Ar.