The hydrological role of a headwater swamp in a tropical rainforest is studied using chloride mass balance (CMB) and end-member mixing analysis. There are three main contributions to streamflow: (1) the hillside bedrock aquifer, (2) overland flow from the swamp during storm events and (3) groundwater flow from the swamp aquifer. Before rainfall events of the wet season, the pre-event water comprises a mix of 80% of bedrock aquifer and 20% of swamp aquifer. During storms, the relative contribution of overland flow increases according to the rainfall intensity and the initial saturation rate of the pre-event water reservoirs. The yearly contribution of overland flow from the swamp to the stream is about 31%. The relationship between the swamp and the stream fluctuates with space and time. Generally, the swamp is drained by the stream; however, at the end of long dry seasons, after the first rains, indirect recharge occurs from the stream to the swamp with a hydraulic gradient inversion in the swamp aquifer. The net contribution of the swamp aquifer to the stream is only 4%, which is much lower than the hillside aquifer contribution of about 65%. Recharge on the swamp being very low, these results suggest that, except for a few storms at the end of the dry season, the Nsimi swamp does not contribute to flood attenuation. Evapotranspiration is higher on the hillside than in the swamp. Nevertheless, depletion of water stored within the swamp is dominated by evaporation rather than by its contribution to streamflow. The export of solutes through swamp groundwater flow below the weir is low (<7%). Nevertheless, the swamp is the most active area of weathering in the watershed. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.