TORONTO -- North American stock markets experienced major sell-offs after investors returned from the Labour Day holiday weekend to weigh growing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.

Today was the first day of trading since North Korea on Sunday conducted its most powerful nuclear test to date, triggering U.S. warnings of a "massive military response."

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average nosedived 234.25 points to 21,753.31, the S&P 500 index lost 18.70 points to 2,457.85 and the Nasdaq composite index gave back 59.76 points to 6,375.57.

The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index plunged 101.45 points to 15,090.15 in a broad-based declined that saw nearly all sectors finish in the red.

Gold stocks, which surged nearly two per cent, were one of the few bright spots on the commodity-heavy TSX.

The December bullion contract advanced $14.10 to US$1,344.50 an ounce.

Elsewhere in commodities, the October crude contract was up $1.37 to US$48.66 per barrel, the October natural gas contract was down 10 cents to US$2.97 per mmBTU and the December copper contract moved up one cent to US$3.13 a pound.

The Canadian dollar was trading at an average price of 80.83 cents US, up 0.12 of a U.S. cent from last Friday.