The temporal variability of the midlatitude double-gyre wind-driven ocean circulation is studied in a three-layer quasi-geostrophic model over a broad range in parameter space. Four different types of flow regimes are found, each characterized by a specific time-mean state and spatio-temporal variability. As the lateral friction is decreased, these regimes are encountered in the following order: the viscous antisymmetric regime, the asymmetric regime, the quasi-homoclinic regime and the inertial antisymmetric regime. The variability in the viscous and the inertial antisymmetric regimes (at high and low lateral friction, respectively) is mainly caused by Rossby basin modes. Low-frequency variability, i.e.on interannual to decadal time-scales, is present in the asymmetric and quasi-homoclinic regime and can be related to relaxation oscillations originating from low-frequency gyre modes. The focus of this paper is on the mechanisms of the transitions between the different regimes. The transition from the viscous antisymmetric regime to the asymmetric regime occurs through a symmetry-breaking pitchfork bifurcation. There are strong indications that the quasi-homoclinic regime is introduced through the existence of a homoclinic orbit. The transition to the inertial antisymmetric regime is due to the symmetrization of the time-mean state zonal velocity field through rectification effects.