Reconstruction of the evolution of the Tyrrhenian Sea shows that the major stage of rifting associated with the opening of this basin began at ∼10 Ma. It involved two episodes of back arc extension, which were induced by the rollback of a west dipping subducting slab. The first period of extension (10–6 Ma) was prominent in the northern Tyrrhenian Sea and in the western part of the southern Tyrrhenian Sea. The second period of extension, mainly affected the southern Tyrrhenian Sea, began in the latest Messinian (6–5 Ma) and has been accompanied by subduction rollback at rates of 60–100 km Myr−1. Slab reconstruction, combined with paleomagnetic and paleogeographic constraints, indicates that in the central Apennines, the latest Messinian (6–5 Ma) arrival of a carbonate platform at the subduction zone impeded subduction and initiated a slab tear and major strike-slip faults. These processes resulted in the formation of a narrow subducting slab beneath the Ionian Sea that has undergone faster subduction rollback and induced extreme rates of back arc extension.