A broad body of experimental work has demonstrated that apparently spontaneous brain activity is not random. At the level of large-scale neural systems, as measured with functional MRI (fMRI), this ongoing activity reflects the organization of a series of highly coherent functional networks. These so-called resting-state networks (RSNs) closely relate to the underlying anatomical connectivity but cannot be understood in those terms alone. Here we review three large-scale neural system models of primate neocortex that emphasize the key contributions of local dynamics, signal transmission delays and noise to the emerging RSNs. We propose that the formation and dissolution of resting-state patterns reflects the exploration of possible functional network configurations around a stable anatomical skeleton.