Long-term evolutionary dynamics have been approached through quantitative analysis of the fossil record, but without explicitly taking its incompleteness into account. Here we explore the temporal covariance structure of per-genus origination and extinction rates for global marine fossil genera throughout the Phanerozoic, both before and after corrections for the incompleteness of the fossil record. Using uncorrected data based on Sepkoski’s compendium, we find significant autocovariance within origination and extinction rates, as well as covariance between extinction and origination, not one, but two, intervals later, corroborating evidence for the unexplained temporal gap found by past studies. However, these effects vanish when the data are corrected for the incompleteness of the fossil record. Instead, we observe significant covariance only between extinction and origination in the immediately following intervals. The gap in the response of the biosphere to extinction in the uncorrected fossil record thus appears to be an artifact of the incompleteness of the fossil record, specifically due to episodic variation in the probability that taxa will be preserved, on time scales comparable to the temporal resolution of Sepkoski’s data. Our results also indicate that at that temporal resolution (the stage/substage of duration ≈5 million years), changes in origination and extinction do not persist for longer than one interval, except that elevated origination rates immediately after extinction may last for more than a single interval. Thus, although certain individual cases may deviate from the overall pattern, we find that in general the biosphere’s response to perturbation is immediate geologically and usually short-lived.