Ca(2+) binding to synaptotagmin 1 triggers fast exocytosis of synaptic vesicles that have been primed for release by SNARE-complex assembly. Besides synaptotagmin 1, fast Ca(2+)-triggered exocytosis requires complexins. Synaptotagmin 1 and complexins both bind to assembled SNARE complexes, but it is unclear how their functions are coupled. Here we propose that complexin binding activates SNARE complexes into a metastable state and that Ca(2+) binding to synaptotagmin 1 triggers fast exocytosis by displacing complexin from metastable SNARE complexes. Specifically, we demonstrate that, biochemically, synaptotagmin 1 competes with complexin for SNARE-complex binding, thereby dislodging complexin from SNARE complexes in a Ca(2+)-dependent manner. Physiologically, increasing the local concentration of complexin selectively impairs fast Ca(2+)-triggered exocytosis but retains other forms of SNARE-dependent fusion. The hypothesis that Ca(2+)-induced displacement of complexins from SNARE complexes triggers fast exocytosis accounts for the loss-of-function and gain-of-function phenotypes of complexins and provides a molecular explanation for the high speed and synchronicity of fast Ca(2+)-triggered neurotransmitter release.