Organic matter in sediments from cores collected from the upper continental slope (200–2700 m) off California and southern Oregon shows marked differences in concentration and marine character between the last glacial interval (ca. 24–10 ka) and either Holocene time or last interstadial (oxygen isotope stage 3, ca. 60–24 ka). In general, sediments deposited during Holocene time and stage 3 contain higher amounts of marine organic matter than those deposited during the last glacial interval, and this contrast is greatest in cores collected off southern California. The most profound differences in stage 3 sediments are between predominantly bioturbated sediments and occasional interbeds of laminated sediments. The sediments are from cores collected within the present oxygen minimum zone on the upper continental slope from as far north as the Oregon-California border to as far south as Point Conception. These upper Pleistocene laminated sediments contain more abundant hydrogen-rich (type II) marine algal organic matter than even surface sediments that have large amounts of nonrefractory organic matter. The stable carbon-isotopic composition of the organic matter does not change with time between bioturbated and laminated sediments, indicating that the greater abundance of type II organic matter in the laminated sediments is not due to a change in source but rather represents a greater degree of production and preservation of marine organic matter. The presence of abundant, well-preserved organic matter supports the theory that the oxygen minimum zone in the northeastern Pacific Ocean was more intense, and possibly anoxic, during late Pleistocene time as a result of increased coastal upwelling that enhanced algal productivity.