Today the western tropical Atlantic is the most important passage for cross-equatorial transfer of heat in the form of warm surface water flowing from the South into the North Atlantic. Circulation changes north of South America may thus have influenced the global thermohaline circulation system and high northern latitude climate. Here we reconstruct late Quaternary variations of western equatorial Atlantic surface circulation and Amazon lowland climate obtained from a multiproxy sediment record from Ceará Rise. Variations in the illite/smectite ratio suggest drier climatic conditions in the Amazon Basin during glacials relative to interglacials. The 230Thex-normalized fluxes and the 13C/12C record of organic carbon indicate that sea level fluctuations, shelf topography, and changes of the surface circulation pattern controlled variations and amplitude of terrigenous sediment supply to the Ceará Rise. We attribute variations in thermocline depth, reconstructed from vertical planktic foraminiferal oxygen isotope gradients and abundances of the phytoplankton species Florisphaera profunda, to changes in southeast trade wind intensity. Strong trade winds during ice volume maxima are associated with a deep western tropical Atlantic thermocline, strengthening of the North Brazil Current retroflection, and more vigorous eastward flow of surface waters.