Many hypotheses have been proposed to explain high species diversity in Amazonia, but few generalizations have emerged. In part, this has arisen from the scarcity of rigorous tests for mechanisms promoting speciation, and from major uncertainties about palaeogeographic events and their spatial and temporal associations with diversification. Here, we investigate the environmental history of Amazonia using a phylogenetic and biogeographic analysis of trumpeters (Aves: Psophia), which are represented by species in each of the vertebrate areas of endemism. Their relationships reveal an unforeseen 'complete' time-slice of Amazonian diversification over the past 3.0 Myr. We employ this temporally calibrated phylogeny to test competing palaeogeographic hypotheses. Our results are consistent with the establishment of the current Amazonian drainage system at approximately 3.0-2.0 Ma and predict the temporal pattern of major river formation over Plio-Pleistocene times. We propose a palaeobiogeographic model for the last 3.0 Myr of Amazonian history that has implications for understanding patterns of endemism, the temporal history of Amazonian diversification and mechanisms promoting speciation. The history of Psophia, in combination with new geological evidence, provides the strongest direct evidence supporting a role for river dynamics in Amazonian diversification, and the absence of such a role for glacial climate cycles and refugia.