The last step of cell division, cytokinesis, produces two daughter cells that remain connected by an intercellular bridge. This state often represents the longest stage of the division process. Severing the bridge (abscission) requires a well-described series of molecular events, but the trigger for abscission remains unknown. We found that pulling forces exerted by daughter cells on the intercellular bridge appear to regulate abscission. Counterintuitively, these forces prolonged connection, whereas a release of tension induced abscission. Tension release triggered the assembly of ESCRT-III (endosomal sorting complex required for transport-Ill), which was followed by membrane fission. This mechanism may allow daughter cells to remain connected until they have settled in their final locations, a process potentially important for tissue organization and morphogenesis.