Norris lost control of his McLaren through the super-fast Eau rouge-Radillon in soaking-wet conditions at the start of the pole shootout, smashing his car against the barriers and pirouetting across the track.
The Briton was winded but unharmed, though his car is almost certainly a write-off for the race, making a pit-lane start for a new chassis likely.
Race control suspended the session for track repairs and recovery, but the heavens opened in the interim, blowing out the stoppage to 45 minutes.
By the time the session resumed the rain had subsided, but the amount of standing water still on the track made conditions a real challenge for the drivers, who collectively opted not for full-wet tyres by intermediate rubber in search of an advantage.
Lewis Hamilton was the first to set a time, taking provisional pole, but George Russell was arguably most at home in the conditions on that tyre. The Briton had been the first to switch off the full-wet tyre at the very beginning of qualifying and was flying now, pipping Hamilton for top spot with minutes remaining.
But Max Verstappen was next in the queue, and the Dutchman had found a groove for himself, and he crossed the line with a final 0.321-second advantage to take pole.
“It’s been a really tricky qualifying,” he said. “It was hard to keep the car on track.
“Also, you know, the long break in Q2 and Q3, it’s not easy to settle in and learn the track conditions.
“It’s an amazing track to drive but very challenging in the wet.”
Russell will start alongside the Dutchman for his first front-row start as a Williams driver and Williams’s highest grid spot since the 2017 Italian Grand Prix.
“I don’t know what to say, to be honest,” he said. “The car was feeling great. I had so much confidence.
“I think the guys did an amazing job today. I was on the track always at the right time.
“I think I was in a fortunate position that I had nothing to lose — we were in Q3, which isn’t the norm for us.”
Title leader Lewis Hamilton will start third, and the Briton said he hoped for improved conditions on Sunday after using all four sets of his intermediate tyres throughout qualifying, leaving him with no new sets for the race.
“It’s been a very difficult day, I think for everyone,” he said. “I’m just trying to stay positive and focused and calm.
“If it’s like this tomorrow, it’s going to be tricky… tomorrow’s another day. Hopefully we have better weather.”
Daniel Ricciardo was fourth in his best qualifying result for McLaren, beating Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly.
Sergio Perez will start seventh for Red Bull Racing after qualifying 2.3 seconds slower than his pole-getting teammate, while Valtteri Bottas, who qualified eighth, will start 13th with a five-place grid penalty for causing a first-lap crash at the previous race in Hungary.
Esteban Ocon qualified ninth, with the crashed Norris classified 10th.
Charles Leclerc will start 11th for Ferrari alongside Nicholas Latifi’s Williams.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz qualified 13th ahead of Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll 15th, though the Canadian will drop to last with a five-place penalty for causing the first-lap pile-up at the previous race in Budapest.
After a 12-minute rain delay qualifying got underway in drying conditions, and with the rain staying away through the 18-minute segment, the drivers could improve their times with each lap as a dry line emerged.
Antonio Giovinazzi was knocked out as the flag fell, qualifying 16th ahead of Yuki Tsunoda. Haas’s Mick Schumacher beat Kimi Raikkonen to 18th, and Nikita Mazepin completed the grid in 20th.