Glutamatergic retinal waves, the spontaneous patterned neural activities propagating among developing retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), instruct the activity-dependent refinement of visuotopic maps. However, its initiation and underlying mechanism remain largely elusive. Here using larval zebrafish and multiple in vivo approaches, we discover that bipolar cells (BCs) are responsible for the generation of glutamatergic retinal waves. The wave originates from BC axon terminals (ATs) and propagates laterally to nearby BCs and vertically to downstream RGCs and the optic tectum. Its initiation is triggered by the activation of and consequent glutamate release from BC ATs, and is mediated by the N-methyl-D-aspartate subtype of glutamate receptors (NMDARs) expressed at these ATs. Intercellular asymmetry of NMDAR expression at BC ATs enables the preferential initiation of waves at the temporal retina, where BC ATs express more NMDARs. Thus, our findings indicate that glutamatergic retinal waves are initiated by BCs through a presynaptic NMDA autoreceptor-dependent process.