© 2018, The Author(s). The caldera collapse of Deception Island Volcano, Antarctica, was comparable in scale to some of the largest eruptions on Earth over the last several millennia. Despite its magnitude and potential for far-reaching environmental effects, the age of this event has never been established, with estimates ranging from the late Pleistocene to 3370 years before present. Here we analyse nearby lake sediments in which we identify a singular event produced by Deception Island’s caldera collapse that occurred 3980 ± 125 calibrated years before present. The erupted tephra record the distinct geochemical composition of ejecta from the caldera-forming eruption, whilst an extreme seismic episode is recorded by lake sediments immediately overlying the collapse tephra. The newly constrained caldera collapse is now the largest volcanic eruption confirmed in Antarctica during the Holocene. An examination of palaeorecords reveals evidence in marine and lacustrine sediments for contemporaneous seismicity around the Antarctic Peninsula; synchronous glaciochemical volcanic signatures also record the eruption in ice cores spread around Antarctica, reaching >4600 km from source. The widespread footprint suggests that this eruption would have had significant climatic and ecological effects across a vast area of the south polar region.