Around the globe, coral reefs and other marine ecosystems are increasingly overfished. Conventionally, studies of fishing impacts have focused on the population size and dynamics of targeted stocks rather than the broader ecosystem-wide effects of harvesting. Using parrotfishes as an example, we show how coral reef fish populations respond to escalating fishing pressure across the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Based on these fish abundance data, we infer the potential impact on four key functional roles performed by parrotfishes. Rates of bioerosion and coral predation are highly sensitive to human activity, whereas grazing and sediment removal are resilient to fishing. Our results offer new insights into the vulnerability and resilience of coral reefs to the ever-growing human footprint. The depletion of fishes causes differential decline of key ecosystem functions, radically changing the dynamics of coral reefs and setting the stage for future ecological surprises.