The internal structure and growth pattern of Tahiti reefs over the last 14 ka is reconstructed using sedimentological, morphological and palaeobiological data coupled with radiometric dates in drill cores through the modern barrier reef. Flooding of the volcaniclastic deposits or the karst surface of a Pleistocene reef started at ≈ 14 ka BP, and coral growth began shortly after inundation. The sequence in the Tahiti barrier-reef edge has formed predominantly through long-term keep-up growth controlled by stable environmental conditions, while the adjacent backreef deposits did not start to accumulate before sea-level stabilization, around 6 ka. The dominance of Porites communities and the coeval occurrence of branching gracile Lithophyllum in the lowermost part of the postglacial reef sequence (14–11 ka) suggest the prevalence of uniformly moderate- to low-energy conditions and/or growth in slightly deeper waters all over the drilled area during the early reef stages. During the last 11 ka, the reef frameworks developed in a high-energy environment, at maximum water depths of 5–6 m, and were dominated by an Acropora robusta/danai–Hydrolithon onkodes association; the local interlayering of other coralgal assemblages (dominated by tabular Acropora or domal Porites) reflects distinct diversification stages, resulting either from the palaeotopographic control of the substrate or from slight and episodic environmental changes.