Tropical deforestation continues at alarming rates with profound impacts on ecosystems, climate, and livelihoods, prompting renewed commitments to halt its continuation. Although it is well established that agriculture is a dominant driver of deforestation, rates and mechanisms remain disputed and often lack a clear evidence base. We synthesize the best available pantropical evidence to provide clarity on how agriculture drives deforestation. Although most (90 to 99%) deforestation across the tropics 2011 to 2015 was driven by agriculture, only 45 to 65% of deforested land became productive agriculture within a few years. Therefore, ending deforestation likely requires combining measures to create deforestation-free supply chains with landscape governance interventions. We highlight key remaining evidence gaps including deforestation trends, commodity-specific land-use dynamics, and data from tropical dry forests and forests across Africa.