The taxonomic diversity of ammonoids, in terms of the number of taxa preserved, provides an incomplete picture of the extinction pattern during the Permian because of a strongly biased fossil record. The analysis of morphological disparity (the variety of shell shapes) is a powerful complementary tool for testing hypotheses about the selectivity of extinction and permits the recognition of three distinct patterns. First, a trend of decreasing disparity, ranging for about 30 million years, led to a minimum disparity immediately before the Permian-Triassic boundary. Second, the strongly selective Capitanian crisis fits a model of background extinction driven by standard environmental changes. Third, the end-Permian mass extinction operated as a random, nonselective sorting of morphologies, which is consistent with a catastrophic cause.