Our study addresses fundamental questions of the mode and timing of orbital and millennial-scale changes in the meridional overturning circulation (MOC) of the subarctic North Pacific. Particular concerns are the vertical mixing, the present and past abundance of nutrients in surface waters despite strong stratification, and the North Pacific–North Atlantic seesaw of oscillations in sea surface temperature (SST). We do this by generating and interpreting multiple records for glacial terminations I–V down two long piston cores, one each from the western and eastern subarctic Pacific. Chlorins and biogenic opal are proxies for surface water productivity; δ13C of epibenthic foraminifera is a record of deepwater ventilation; and the δ13C of N. pachyderma sin. is a tracer of nutrients in subsurface waters that extend up to the sea surface during times of vertical mixing. The degree of mixing is traced by pairing SST and δ18O records of planktic surface and subsurface (pycnocline) dwellers. Tight age control is deduced from a suite of age-calibrated 14C plateau boundaries for Termination I and benthic δ18O and geomagnetic events for the last 800 ka. Carbon 14 paleoreservoir ages record the ages of surface and deep waters to uncover short-term changes in MOC over Termination I. We have defined a standard sequence of short-term productivity events for Termination I, also evident during terminations II to V and subsequent interglacials over the last 450 ka. The peak glacial regime of stable stratification and low productivity terminated, together with the end of ice rafting and melting, near 17 ka, ∼2000 years after the onset of Termination I. Pulses of vertical mixing and incursion of warm surface waters from the subtropics followed. Convected young water masses finally penetrated down to 3600-m water depth at 17.0 to less than 14.5 ka, significantly improving bottom water ventilation through the late deglacial and earliest interglacial. Mixing with upwelled nutrients from the pycnocline induced short-term maxima in algal production of chlorins and biogenic opal near 17–15 and 15–12 ka, respectively. Deglacial meltwater incursions in the Aleutian Current and silica input from North American rivers also promoted East Pacific productivity after 15.5 ka. Productivity decreased during the late deglacial and early interglacial, coeval with an exceptional peak in CaCO3 preservation caused by both low organic flux and well-ventilated deepwater. Subsequently, low salinity and cool surface waters and in turn, stratification were gradually restored. A second, opal-dominated productivity maximum marked the ends of interglacials. The deglacial pulses of vertical mixing around 17–11 ka imply an important contribution of the North Pacific to the coeval release of oceanic CO2 into the atmosphere and support the east-west seesaw model of climate change.