We used accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) 14C-dated sediments of the Holocene basal supratidal flat to upper tidal flat facies in 11 cores on the southern Yangtze delta plain to reconstruct relative sea levels of 8.5–8.0 cal ka BP. Three cores were further AMS 14C dated and used to examine the evolution of sedimentary geomorphological environments in response to the rapid sea-level rise during the early to mid-Holocene. Results demonstrate relative sea-level rise of around 30 mm a−1 from 8.5 to 8.3 cal ka BP and around 10 mm a−1 from 8.3 to 8.0 cal ka BP. Retrogradation from supratidal to lower tidal flat environments occurred in response to the rapid sea-level rise at 8.5–8.3 cal ka BP, and aggradation from middle to upper tidal flat occurred at 8.3–7.9 cal ka BP. Further retreat of the tidal flat at 7.9–7.2 cal ka BP implies a mean sea-level rise rate exceeding 5 mm a−1 at this time. We suggest that the rapid relative sea-level rise during 8.3–8.5 cal ka BP and subsequent slower rise caused drastic changes in the coastal zone and that these changes are key phenomena for understanding the coastal response to future sea-level rise.