When irradiated with nanosecond laser pulses, gold nanoparticles allow for manipulation or destruction of cells and proteins with high spatial and temporal precision. Gold nanorods are especially attractive, because they have an up-to-20-fold stronger absorption than a sphere of equal volume, which is shifted to the optical window of tissue. Thus, an increased efficiency of cell killing is expected with laser pulses tuned to the near infrared absorption peak of the nanorods. In contrast to the higher-absorption, experiments showed a reduced efficacy of cell killing. In order to explain this discrepancy, transient absorption of irradiated nanorods was measured and the observed change of particle absorption was theoretically analyzed. During pulsed irradiation a strong transient and permanent bleaching of the near-infrared absorption band occurred. Both effects limit the ability of nanorods to destroy cells by nanocavitation. The existence of nanocavitation and transient bleaching was corroborated by optoacoustic measurements.