Isotopically dated corals from the central New Hebrides and New Georgia Island Group, Solomon Islands, indicate that both forearcs underwent rapid late Quaternary subsidence that was abruptly replaced by hundreds of meters of uplift at rates up to ∼8 mm/yr, while total plate convergence was only a few kilometers. Two mechanisms that might account for these rapid reversals in vertical motion include (1) a "displacement" mechanism in which the forearc is displaced upward by the volume of an object passing beneath on the subducting plate (as the object moves deeper and vacates the base of the forearc, the forearc subsides to near its original position) and (2) a "crustal shortening" mechanism in which the forearc thickens and uplifts because of horizontal shortening when a large object impinges on the forearc and abruptly increases interplate coupling on the shallow end of the main thrust zone. Rapid subsidence follows when the impinging object is broken or otherwise decoupled, shallow interplate coupling becomes weak, and the uplifted forearc extends and subsides. The displacement mechanism surely plays a role on timescales over which plates converge tens of kilometers, but it fails to explain the geographic pattern, short time frame, and abruptness of the change from subsidence to uplift that we observe. The crustal shortening mechanism is preferred because it allows the observed abrupt uplift when an object impinges on a forearc and causes locking of a shallow segment of the interplate thrust zone.