The sediment core NP05-71GC, retrieved from 360 m water depth south of Kvitøya, northwestern Barents Sea, was investigated for the distribution of benthic and planktic foraminifera, stable isotopes and sedimentological parameters to reconstruct palaeoceanographic changes and the growth and retreat of the Svalbard–Barents Sea Ice Sheet during the last ∼16 000 years. The purpose is to gain better insight into the timing and variability of ocean circulation, climatic changes and ice-sheet behaviour during the deglaciation and the Holocene. The results show that glaciomarine sedimentation commenced c. 16 000 a BP, indicating that the ice sheet had retreated from its maximum position at the shelf edge around Svalbard before that time. A strong subsurface influx of Atlantic-derived bottom water occurred from 14 600 a BP during the Bølling and Allerød interstadials and lasted until the onset of the Younger Dryas cooling. In the Younger Dryas cold interval, the sea surface was covered by near-permanent sea ice. The early Holocene, 11 700–11 000 a BP, was influenced by meltwater, followed by a strong inflow of highly saline and chilled Atlantic Water until c. 8600 a BP. From 8600 to 7600 a BP, faunal and isotopic evidence indicates cooling and a weaker flow of the Atlantic Water followed by a stronger influence of Atlantic Water until c. 6000 a BP. Thereafter, the environment generally deteriorated. Our results imply that (i) the deglaciation occurred earlier in this area than previously thought, and (ii) the Younger Dryas ice sheet was smaller than indicated by previous reconstructions.