Geological constraints on the timing of retreat of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) Antarctic Ice Sheets provide critical insights into the processes controlling marine-based ice-sheet retreat. The overdeepened, landward-sloping bathymetry of Antarctica’s continental shelves is an ideal configuration for marine ice-sheet instability, with the potential for past and future ice-sheet collapse and accelerated sea-level rise. However, the chronology of retreat of the LGM ice sheet in the Ross Sea is largely constrained by imprecise radiocarbon chronology of bulk marine sediments or by coastal records that offer more reliable dating techniques but which may be influenced by local piedmont glaciers derived from East Antarctic outlet glaciers. Consequently, these coastal records may be ambiguous in the broader context of retreat in the central regions of the Ross Sea. Here, we present a sedimentary facies succession and foraminifera-based radiocarbon chronology from within the Ross Sea embayment that indicates glacial retreat and open-marine conditions to the east of Ross Island before 8.6 cal. (calibrated) kyr B.P., at least 1 k.y. earlier than indicated by terrestrial records in McMurdo Sound. Comparing these data to new modeling experiments, we hypothesize that marine-based ice-sheet retreat was triggered by oceanic forcings along most of the Pacific Ocean coastline of Antarctica, but continued Holocene retreat into the inner shelf region of the Ross Sea occurred primarily as a consequence of bathymetric controls on marine ice-sheet instability.