Understanding the emerging models of adaptive resistance is key to overcoming cancer chemotherapy failure. Using human breast cancer explants, in vitro cell lines, mouse in vivo studies and mathematical modelling, here we show that exposure to a taxane induces phenotypic cell state transition towards a favoured transient CD44(Hi)CD24(Hi) chemotherapy-tolerant state. This state is associated with a clustering of CD44 and CD24 in membrane lipid rafts, leading to the activation of Src Family Kinase (SFK)/hemopoietic cell kinase (Hck) and suppression of apoptosis. The use of pharmacological inhibitors of SFK/Hck in combination with taxanes in a temporally constrained manner, where the kinase inhibitor is administered post taxane treatment, but not when co-administered, markedly sensitizes the chemotolerant cells to the chemotherapy. This approach of harnessing chemotherapy-induced phenotypic cell state transition for improving antitumour outcome could emerge as a translational strategy for the management of cancer.