We use new U-Pb detrital zircon (DZ) geochronology from the Pleistocene Amazon submarine fan (n = 1352 grains), integrated with onshore DZ age data, to propose a sedimentary model for sea level–modulated and hydroclimate-modulated sediment transfer in Earth’s largest source-to-sink system. DZ ages from the modern Amazon River sediment display a progressive downstream dilution by older cratonic zircons, leading to the expectation of a submarine fan with high proportions of craton-derived sediment. Our new DZ age data from the submarine fan and mixture modeling suggest that higher proportions of sediment were supplied from the distant central Andes to the Amazon fan during the last two glacioeustatic lowstands, and thus the observed DZ age spectra of the modern lower Amazon River indicate a relative increase in craton-derived sediment during the Holocene. We interpret that during interglacials, when sea level was high and the submarine fan inactive, the lower Amazon River did not efficiently transfer sand-sized sediment to the margin and thus became enriched in craton-derived sediment. During sea-level lowstands, increased gradients and incision in the lower Amazon River due to base-level lowering resulted in enhanced connectivity and transfer of Andes-sourced zircons to the deep sea. These results are also consistent with interpreted patterns of Andean-Amazon hydroclimate anti-phasing (enhanced precipitation in the central Andes and increased aridity in the northern Amazon Basin) during the Last Glacial Maximum. Our results suggest that sand-sized sediment in the Amazon submarine fan records multi-millennial patterns of sea level and South American hydroclimate.

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