Transient polymer networks are known to undergo a wide variety of viscoelastic flow instabilities. In this paper we investigate two of these flow failure modes: shear banding and melt fracture. Using particle-based simulations we reveal a transition from gradient banding to fracture in transient polymer networks with reversible associative nodes. We discuss the failure-mode transition on the basis of an energetic and a kinetic approach to fracturing in soft materials. © 2009 The Royal Society of Chemistry.