We are currently seeing a global escalation in social and environmental disruption, yet concepts like the Anthropocene do not fully capture the intensity and generative scope of this crisis. ‘Rupture’ is being used as a term for specific and intense episodes of change, such as wildfires or toxic pollution releases. This is a useful addition to our lexicon for nature-society change but needs to be more robustly theorized. Defining rupture as an intense and adverse episode of nature-society disruption that ripples across scales, we elaborate four dimensions that account for rupture’s sources and uncertain effects. The first two dimensions consider how rupture emerges in space and time from: (i) synergistic spatial, material, and socio-natural changes across scales; and (ii) the accumulation of slow violence that builds towards and is exposed by punctuated shifts and crisis moments. The second two dimensions consider the outcomes of rupture, namely: (iii) heightened uncertainty, insecurity, and socio-material deprivation, which are experienced in unequal and deeply affective ways; and (iv) the scope to catalyze diverse forms of agency that play out in uncertain ways. To illustrate our discussion, we draw from our long history of research on hydropower landscapes in the Mekong region.