Soil phosphorus (P) leaks rapidly from newly formed land surfaces to upland rivers and lakes, surface water P concentrations peaking early before declining as soil apatite (Ca5(PO4)3(OH)) becomes depleted. We present lake sediment P profiles that record this leakage through the early Holocene. The results are entirely consistent with our re-analysis of published soil chronosequence data, but conflict with more recent quantitative interpretations of global soil P dynamics that identify far slower loss rates. P inherited from the bedrock on soil formation, long regarded as the major source for terrestrial ecosystems, only lasts ~104 years rather than the previously suggested 106 years, and thus is, globally, much less important in the long term than atmospheric supply. This changes the conceptualization of terrestrial P dynamics, with the “terminal steady state” of Walker and Syers (1976) being the norm not the exception, and with soil P export being little if at all controlled by biotic retention mechanisms. High early export of P from newly formed soil causes a peak in the productivity of terrestrial surface waters, before a decline as the soil P pool depletes. Globally, the 18 × 106 km2 of terrain exposed since the Last Glacial Maximum potentially produced a substantial surge in runoff P, with greatest impacts likely in high-latitude, restricted basin seas and maximal area of deglaciated terrain.