The third season of the American animated television series SpongeBob SquarePants, created by Stephen Hillenburg, aired on Nickelodeon from October 5, 2001 to October 11, 2004, and consists of 20 episodes. The series chronicles the exploits and adventures of the title character and his various friends in the fictional underwater city of Bikini Bottom. The season was executive produced by series creator Hillenburg, who also acted as the showrunner. Hillenburg halted production on the show to work on the 2004 film adaptation of the series, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. After production on the film, Hillenburg resigned from the show as its showrunner, and appointed staff writer Paul Tibbitt to overtake the position. Season 3 was originally set to end the series after the release of the film, but the success prevented the series from ending, leading to a fourth season.
The season was well received by media critics and fans. During its run, SpongeBob SquarePants became the highest rated children's show on cable, with over 50 million viewers a month. The show received several recognition, including its nomination at the Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Children's Program. The episodes "New Student Starfish" and "Clams" were nominated for Outstanding Animated Program (for Programming Less Than One Hour) category, while the entry "SpongeBob B.C. (Ugh)" won the same category. The season was also the first time the show received a nomination at the Kids' Choice Awards and won. It won the 2003 Kids' Choice Awards for Favorite Cartoon, and also won the following year's Kids' Choice Award for the same category. Celebrities—including Justin Timberlake, Kelly Osbourne, Britney Spears, Bruce Willis, Noel Gallagher, rapper Dr. Dre, and Mike Myers—have been reported to be fans of the show.