The electrochemical behaviour of MnO2 nanorod and Super P carbon based Li–O2 battery cathodes in water-containing sulfolane and anhydrous DMSO electrolytes are shown to be linked to specific discharge product formation. During discharge, large layered spherical agglomerates of LiOH were characteristically formed on the MnO2 cathodes while smaller, toroidal, spherical Li2O2 particles and films were formed on the Super P cathodes. In an anhydrous DMSO based electrolyte the LiOH structures were also found on cathodes discharged in the anhydrous electrolyte, suggesting that MnO2 initiates electrochemical decomposition of the DMSO electrolyte to form LiOH via H2O reactions with Li2O2. The LiOH crystals are uniquely formed on MnO2, and segregated to this phase even in mixed oxide–carbon cathodes. In contrast, no Li2O2 toroids were noted on Super P cathodes discharged in the DMSO based electrolytes. Instead, the morphology varied from smaller sheets (at high discharge current) to much larger agglomerates (at low discharge currents). In mixed carbon–MnO2 nanorod cathodes, the use of PVDF initiates H2O formation that affects discharge products and an overall mechanism governing phase formation at MnO2 in sulfolane and anhydrous DMSO with and without PVDF binder is presented. This work highlights the importance of careful consideration of electrolyte–cathode material–discharge product interactions in the search for more stable Li–O2 systems.