High resolution cores from the upper continental slope, northern Norwegian Sea, document rapid climatic fluctuations during the latest deglaciation and the Holocene. Based on down-core analysis of planktic and benthic foraminifera, stable oxygen and carbon isotopes, carbonate and organic carbon and radiocarbon dating, the following evolution is proposed: sea-ice cover broke up, the surface ocean warmed and an in situ benthic foraminiferal fauna was established at 12 500 BP. The Younger Dryas was characterized by reduced sedimentaion and foraminiferal production, due to surface ocean cooling. At the end of the Younger Dryas there were major shifts in both surface and bottom water conditions. The surface ocean warmed to temperatures similar to modern levels within < 100 years, reaching a maximum at about 9200 BP when foraminiferal production was high. A benthic foraminiferal assemblage indicative of bottom water conditions similar to present conditions was established at 10 000 BP. This was followed by a gradual decline in nutrients or an increase in ventilation of the bottom water throughout the Holocene. A gradual surface ocean cooling of c. 2°C ended around 6500 BP followed by a second warming that culminated at 2000 BP. The warming at the end of the Younger Dryas and the succeeding older Holocene temperature maximum correlate to a June insolation maximum in the northern hemisphere. In addition, fluctuating surface temperatures in the Holocene may be driven by variations in inflow of Atlantic Water.