Comparative mapping and sequencing show that turnover of sex determining genes and chromosomes, and sex chromosome rearrangements, accompany speciation in many vertebrates. Here I review the evidence and propose that the evolution of therian mammals was precipitated by evolution of the male-determining SRY gene, defining a novel XY sex chromosome pair, and interposing a reproductive barrier with the ancestral population of synapsid reptiles 190 million years ago (MYA). Divergence was reinforced by multiple translocations in monotreme sex chromosomes, the first of which supplied a novel sex determining gene. A sex chromosome-autosome fusion may have separated eutherians (placental mammals) from marsupials 160 MYA. Another burst of sex chromosome change and speciation is occurring in rodents, precipitated by the degradation of the Y. And although primates have a more stable Y chromosome, it may be just a matter of time before the same fate overtakes our own lineage. Also watch the video abstract.