Measuring the spatiotemporal complexity of cortical responses to direct perturbations provides a reliable index of the brain's capacity for consciousness in humans under both physiological and pathological conditions. Upon loss of consciousness, the complex pattern of causal interactions observed during wakefulness collapses into a stereotypical slow wave, suggesting that cortical bistability may play a role. Bistability is mainly expressed in the form of slow oscillations, a default pattern of activity that emerges from cortical networks in conditions of functional or anatomical disconnection. Here, we employ an in vitro model to understand the relationship between bistability and complexity in cortical circuits. We adapted the perturbational complexity index applied in humans to electrically stimulated cortical slices under different neuromodulatory conditions. At this microscale level, we demonstrate that perturbational complexity can be effectively modulated by pharmacological reduction of bistability and, albeit to a lesser extent, by enhancement of excitability, providing mechanistic insights into the macroscale measurements performed in humans.