Young rifts are shaped by combined tectonic and surface processes and climate, yet few records exist to evaluate the interplay of these processes over an extended period of early rift-basin development. Here, we present the longest and highest resolution record of sediment flux and paleoenvironmental changes when a young rift connects to the global oceans. New results from International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 381 in the Corinth Rift show 10s–100s of kyr cyclic variations in basin paleoenvironment as eustatic sea level fluctuated with respect to sills bounding this semi-isolated basin, and reveal substantial corresponding changes in the volume and character of sediment delivered into the rift. During interglacials, when the basin was marine, sedimentation rates were lower (excepting the Holocene), and bioturbation and organic carbon concentration higher. During glacials, the basin was isolated from the ocean, and sedimentation rates were higher (~2–7 times those in interglacials). We infer that reduced vegetation cover during glacials drove higher sediment flux from the rift flanks. These orbital-timescale changes in rate and type of basin infill will likely influence early rift sedimentary and faulting processes, potentially including syn-rift stratigraphy, sediment burial rates, and organic carbon flux and preservation on deep continental margins worldwide.