We synthesize the evolutionary implications of recent advances in the fields of phylogeography, biogeography and palaeogeography for shallow-water marine species, focusing on marine speciation and the relationships among the biogeographic regions and provinces of the world. A recent revision of biogeographic provinces has resulted in the recognition of several new provinces and a re-evaluation of provincial relationships. These changes, and the information that led to them, make possible a clarification of distributional dynamics and evolutionary consequences. Most of the new conclusions pertain to biodiversity hotspots in the tropical Atlantic, tropical Indo-West Pacific, cold-temperate North Pacific, and the cold Southern Ocean. The emphasis is on the fish fauna, although comparative information on invertebrates is utilized when possible. Although marine biogeographic provinces are characterized by endemism and thus demonstrate evolutionary innovation, dominant species appear to arise within smaller centres of high species diversity and maximum interspecies competition. Species continually disperse from such centres of origin and are readily accommodated in less diverse areas. Thus, the diversity centres increase or maintain species diversity within their areas of influence, and are part of a global system responsible for the maintenance of biodiversity over much of the marine world.