The Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), ca. 56 Ma, was a major global environmental perturbation attributed to a rapid rise in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Geochemical records of tropical sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) from the PETM are rare and are typically affected by post-depositional diagenesis. To circumvent this issue, we have analyzed oxygen isotope ratios (δ18O) of single specimens of exceptionally well-preserved planktonic foraminifera from the PETM in Tanzania (~19°S paleolatitude), which yield extremely low δ18O, down to <–5‰. After accounting for changes in seawater chemistry and pH, we estimate from the foraminifer δ18O that tropical SSTs rose by >3 °C during the PETM and may have exceeded 40 °C. Calcareous plankton are absent from a large part of the Tanzania PETM record; extreme environmental change may have temporarily caused foraminiferal exclusion.