A reorganization centered on the Pacific plate occurred ~53–47 million years ago. A “top-down” plate tectonic mechanism, complete subduction of the Izanagi plate, as opposed to a “bottom-up” mantle flow mechanism, has been proposed as the main driver. Verification based on marine geophysical observations is impossible as most ocean crust recording this event has been subducted. Using a forward modeling approach, which assimilates surface plate velocities and shallow thermal structure of slabs into mantle flow models, we show that complete Izanagi plate subduction and margin-wide slab detachment induced a major change in sub-Pacific mantle flow, from dominantly southward before 60 Ma to north-northeastward after 50 Ma. Our results agree with onshore geology, mantle tomography, and the inferred motion of the Hawaiian hot spot and are consistent with a plate tectonic process driving the rapid plate-mantle reorganization in the Pacific hemisphere between 60 and 50 Ma. This reorganization is reflected in tectonic changes in the Pacific and surrounding ocean basins.