Abstract Variation in fluvial suspended sediment–discharge behavior is generally thought to be the product of changes in processes governing the delivery of sediment and water to the channel. The objective of this study was to infer sediment supply dynamics from the response of suspended sediment behavior to antecedent hydrologic factors. The Salinas River (California) is seasonally active, moderately sized, and potentially susceptible to lasting impacts of hydrologic event history because of aridity, high discharge variability, and in-channel terminating flows. Forty-five years of suspended sediment data from the lower Salinas and 80years of hydrologic data were used to construct hydrologic descriptors of basin preconditioning and to test the effects of these preconditions on suspended sediment behavior. Hydrologic precondition factors — including change in mean daily discharge and increasing elapsed time since the last moderate discharge event (~10–20 times mean discharge (Qmean)) — were found to have significant positive effects on discharge-corrected, fine suspended-sediment concentrations. Conversely, increased elapsed time since the last low discharge event (~0.1–0.4 times Qmean), and the sum of low flow conditions over interannual time scales were found to cause significant negative trends in fine suspended sediment concentration residuals. Suspended sand concentrations are suppressed by increased elapsed time after threshold discharges of ~0.1–2 and 5–100 times Qmean, and increased low to no flow days over time scales from 1 to 2000days. Current and previous year water yield and precipitation magnitudes correlate positively with sand concentration. Addition of fine sediment from lower Salinas hillslope or channel sources on the rising limb of the hydrograph is the major mechanism behind an overall positive hysteretic pattern, which was forensically supported by the annual occurrence of in-channel suspended sediment deposition by early season, channel terminating flows and by the flushing function of moderate hydrologic events found in this study. The importance of hillslope and/or channel fine sediment contributions proximal to the lower Salinas are further highlighted by the lack of control exerted by upper subbasin water provenance on fine suspended sediment concentration, while sand behavior is differentiated by upper basin water provenance. Investigation of suspension of bed-sized sediment showed that the channel bed could exert significant effects on fine and sand-sized suspended sediment dynamics, but this mediation for fine sediment was most likely small in terms of decadal-scale sediment budgets. The magnitude of the effects of hydrologic variables on sediment dynamics remains uncertain, but the factors identified here may play a significant role in water quality, if not long-term sediment flux to the ocean.