The process of river avulsion builds floodplains and fills alluvial basins. We report on a new style of river avulsion identified in the Landsat satellite record. We found 69 examples of retrogradational avulsions on rivers of densely forested fluvial fans in the Andean and New Guinean alluvial basins. Retrogradational avulsions are initiated by a channel blockage, e.g., a logjam, that fills the channel with sediment and forces water overbank (dechannelization), which creates a chevron-shaped flooding pattern. Dechannelization waves travel upstream at a median rate of 387 m/yr and last on average for 13 yr; many rivers show multiple dechannelizing events on the same reach. Dechannelization ends and the avulsion is complete when the river finds a new flow path. We simulate upstream-migrating dechannelization with a one-dimensional morphodynamic model for open channel flow. Observations are consistent with model results and show that channel blockages can cause dechannelization on steep (10−2 to 10−3), low-discharge (~101 m3 s−1) rivers. This illustrates a new style of floodplain sedimentation that is unaccounted for in ecologic and stratigraphic models.