Abstract Numerous sapropels and sapropelic strata from Upper Pliocene and Pleistocene hemipelagic sediments of the Tyrrhenian Sea show that intermittent anoxia, possibly related to strongly increased biological productivity, was not restricted to the eastern Mediterranean basins and may be a basin-wide result of Late Pliocene-Pleistocene climatic variability. Even though the sapropel assemblage of the Tyrrhenian Sea clearly originates from multiple processes such as deposition under anoxic conditions or during spikes in surface water productivity and lateral transport of organic-rich suspensates, many “pelagic sapropels” have been recognized. Stratigraphic ages calculated for the organic-rich strata recovered during ODP Leg 107 indicate that the frequency of sapropel formation increased from the lowermost Pleistocene to the base of the Jaramillo magnetic event, coinciding with a period when stable isotope records of planktonic foraminifera indicate the onset of climatic cooling in the Mediterranean. A second, very pronounced peak in sapropel formation occurred in the Middle to Late Pleistocene (0.73-0.26 Ma). Formainifers studied in three high-resolution sample sets suggest that changes in surface-water temperature may have been responsible for establishing anoxic conditions, while salinity differences were not noted in the faunal assemblage. However, comparison of sapropel occurrence at Site 653 with the oxygen isotopic record of planktonic foraminifers established by Thunell et al. (Proc. ODP, Sci. Results 107, 1990) indicates that sapropel occurrences coincide with negative δ 18O excursions in planktonic foraminifers in thirteen of eighteen sapropels recognized in Hole 653A. A variant of the meltwater hypothesis accepted for sapropel formation in the Late Pleistocene eastern Mediterranean may thus be the cause of several “anoxic events” in the Tyrrhenian as well. Model calculations indicate that the amount of oxygen advection from Western Mediterranean Deep Water exerts the dominant control on the oxygen content in deep water of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Inhibition of deep-water formation in the northern Adriatic and the Balearic Basin by increased meltwater discharge and changing storm patterns during climatic amelioration may thus be responsible for sapropel formation in the Tyrrhenian Sea.