Following ribosomal peptide bond formation, the reaction products, peptidyl-tRNA and deacylated tRNA, need to be translocated from the A- and P-sites to the P- and E-sites, respectively. This process is facilitated by the GTPase elongation factor G (EF-G). The mechanism describing how the ribosome activates GTP hydrolysis is poorly understood in molecular terms. By using an 'atomic mutagenesis' approach, which allows the manipulation of specific functional groups on 23S rRNA nucleotides in the context of the entire ribosome, we disclose the adenine exocyclic N6 amino group at A2660 of the sarcin-ricin loop as a key determinant for triggering GTP hydrolysis on EF-G. We show that the purine pi system-expanding characteristics of the exocyclic functional group at the C6 position of A2660 are essential. We propose that stacking interactions of A2660 with EF-G may act as a molecular trigger to induce repositioning of suspected functional amino acids in EF-G that in turn promote GTP hydrolysis.