The middle Amazon River, between the confluences of the Negro and Madeira Rivers in Brazil, shows an anastomosing morphology with relatively stable, multiple interconnected channels that locally enclose floodbasins. Additionally, this system is characterized by sinuous secondary channels with meander development, discontinuous natural levees concentrated on the concave banks and extensively distributed scroll bars mainly in the islands, related to subrecent and present-day migration of mainly secondary channels. This distinguishes the Amazon from many other anastomosing rivers that have laterally stable, non-meandering channels. We analyzed sedimentary processes using field data, morphology and channel changes trough a temporal analysis using remote sensing data and obtained optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating to understand the genesis of this large anastomosing river and the development of its meandering secondary channels. Scroll bars have developed in a multichannel river system at least since 7.5 ± 0.85 ka. Avulsion is inferred to have played a minor role in the formation of this anastomosing system, with only one documented case while mid-channel bar formation and chute cut-offs of the main and secondary channels are the main formative mechanisms of anastomosis in this system. Differences in resistance to erosion control the relatively straight main channel and allow secondary channels to develop a meandering platform. Vegetation contributes to the relative stability of islands and the floodplain. Low gradient and high average aggradation rate (1.1 mm yr−1) are conditions which favor the development of anastomosis. Additionally, stable external conditions, low abandonment rate of older channels and independence from high avulsion frequency suggest a long-lived, semi-static type of anastomosing river in this reach of the Amazon. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.