The synaptic vesicle protein synaptotagmin I binds Ca2+ and is required for efficient neurotransmitter release. Here, we measure the response time of the C2 domains of synaptotagmin to determine whether synaptotagmin is fast enough to function as a Ca2+ sensor for rapid exocytosis. We report that synaptotagmin is "tuned" to sense Ca2+ concentrations that trigger neuronal exocytosis. The speed of response is unique to synaptotagmin I and readily satisfies the kinetic constraints of synaptic vesicle membrane fusion. We further demonstrate that Ca2+ triggers penetration of synaptotagmin into membranes and simultaneously drives assembly of synaptotagmin onto the base of the ternary SNARE (soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive fusion protein [NSF] attachment receptor) complex, near the transmembrane anchor of syntaxin. These data support a molecular model in which synaptotagmin triggers exocytosis through its interactions with membranes and the SNARE complex.