Bacterial translation initiation entails the tightly regulated joining of the 50S ribosomal subunit to an initiator transfer RNA (fMet-tRNAfMet)-containing 30S ribosomal initiation complex (IC) to form a 70S IC that subsequently matures into a 70S elongation-competent complex (70S EC). Rapid and accurate 70S IC formation is promoted by 30S IC-bound initiation factor (IF) 1 and the guanosine triphosphatase (GTPase) IF2, both of which must ultimately dissociate from the 70S IC before the resulting 70S EC can begin translation elongation. Although comparison of 30S- and 70S IC structures have revealed that the ribosome, IFs, and fMet-tRNAfMet can acquire different conformations in these complexes, the timing of conformational changes during 70S IC formation, structures of any intermediates formed during these rearrangements, and contributions that these dynamics might make to the mechanism and regulation of initiation remain unknown. Moreover, lack of an authentic 70S EC structure has precluded an understanding of ribosome, IF, and fMet-tRNAfMet rearrangements that occur upon maturation of a 70S IC into a 70S EC. Using time-resolved cryogenic electron microscopy (TR cryo-EM) we report the first, near-atomic-resolution view of how a time-ordered series of conformational changes drive and regulate subunit joining, IF dissociation, and fMet-tRNAfMet positioning during 70S EC formation. We have found that, within ~20-80 ms, rearrangements of the 30S subunit and IF2, uniquely captured in its GDP·Pi-bound state, stabilize fMet-tRNAfMet in its intermediate, ’70S P/I’ configuration7 and trigger dissociation of IF1 from the 70S IC. Within the next several hundreds of ms, dissociation of IF2 from the 70S IC is coupled to further remodeling of the ribosome that positions fMet-tRNAfMet into its final, ‘P/P’, configuration within the 70S EC. Our results demonstrate the power of TR cryo-EM to determine how a time-ordered series of conformational changes contribute to the mechanism and regulation of one of the most fundamental processes in biology.