The increase in diversity towards the equator arises from latitudinal variation in rates of cladogenesis, extinction, immigration and/or emigration of taxa. We tested the relative contribution of all four processes to the latitudinal gradient in 26 marine invertebrate orders with extensive fossil records, examined previously by David Jablonski. Coupling Jablonski's estimates of latitudinal variation in cladogenesis with new data on patterns of extinction and current distributions, we show that the present-day gradient in diversity is caused by higher rates of cladogenesis and subsequent range expansion (immigration) at lower latitudes. In contrast, extinction and emigration were not important in the creation of the latitudinal gradient in ordinal richness. This work represents one of the first simultaneous tests of the role of all four processes in the creation of the latitudinal gradient in taxonomic richness, and suggests that low tropical extinction rates are not essential to the creation of latitudinal diversity gradients.