The lower bathyal Ocean Drilling Program Hole 1261A was sampled near an upper Quaternary oxygen minimum zone (OMZ). Glauconite, the percentage of the foraminiferal assemblage as benthic specimens and assemblage composition were used to investigate the behaviour of the OMZ. Benthic foraminifera and glauconite were comparable with the upper margin of the modern OMZ off California. The percentage abundances of U. peregrina and C. laevigata were on the Demerara Rise negatively correlated, the proportional abundance of U. peregrina increasing upwards through the section. This reflects variations in proximity to the upper margin of the OMZ. This might reflect either crustal subsidence or long-term shallowing of the OMZ during the earlier late Quaternary. Neither hypothesis can be accepted unequivocally. The purported subsidence can be ascribed to crustal loading by the Amazon and Orinoco deep-sea fans, but this would require that the palaeodepth to the top of the OMZ remains constant across several glacial–interglacial cycles. In contrast, it is difficult to envisage any mechanism that could have caused progressive shallowing of the OMZ across several glacial–interglacial cycles. The epifaunal Planulina wuellerstorfi is related to more oxic waters and enhanced current action. This suggests that intervals with more abundant P. wuellerstorfi were somewhat less dysoxic than those with few. These intervals approximate to those with more abundant C. laevigata. Superimposed on this low-frequency signal is a higher-frequency signal, indicated by a between-sample assemblage turnover index (ATIs) that might prove useful for long-range sequence stratigraphic correlation at bathyal depths.