Using a simple conceptual model of incised-valley evolution, we show that the classic sequence stratigraphic phenomenon of bayhead deltaic systems can be generated by purely autogenic progradation during the late stage of valley flooding. This transient “auto-advance” event occurs under conditions of constant base-level rise and sediment supply, and it results from a strong decrease of in-valley accommodation as base level rises toward the valley apex. We present a laboratory experiment to illustrate the plausibility of this mechanism and apply it to the incised valleys of the Trinity and Brazos Rivers (Texas, USA) as field case studies. Auto-advance can produce out-of-sequence regressive bayhead diastems during highstands similar to a transient change in allogenic forcing. Combined with other recent studies, our findings support the idea that mesoscale autogenic patterns are ubiquitous in the fluviodeltaic record and need to be more extensively incorporated into reconstructions of Earth surface evolution and reservoir models.