Unprecedented droughts hit southern Amazonia in 2005 and 2010, causing a sharp increase in tree mortality and carbon loss. To better predict the rainforest's response to future droughts, it is necessary to understand its behavior during past events. Satellite observations provide a practical source of continuous observations of Amazonian forest. Here we used a passive microwave-based vegetation water content record (i.e., vegetation optical depth, VOD), together with multiple hydrometeorological observations as well as conventional satellite vegetation measures, to investigate the rainforest canopy dynamics during the 2005 and 2010 droughts. During the onset of droughts in the wet-to-dry season (May–July) of both years, we found large-scale positive anomalies in VOD, leaf area index (LAI) and enhanced vegetation index (EVI) over the southern Amazonia. These observations are very likely caused by enhanced canopy growth. Concurrent below-average rainfall and above-average radiation during the wet-to-dry season can be interpreted as an early arrival of normal dry season conditions, leading to enhanced new leaf development and ecosystem photosynthesis, as supported by field observations. Our results suggest that further rainfall deficit into the subsequent dry season caused water and heat stress during the peak of 2005 and 2010 droughts (August–October) that exceeded the tolerance limits of the rainforest, leading to widespread negative VOD anomalies over the southern Amazonia. Significant VOD anomalies were observed mainly over the western part in 2005 and mainly over central and eastern parts in 2010. The total area with significant negative VOD anomalies was comparable between these two drought years, though the average magnitude of significant negative VOD anomalies was greater in 2005. This finding broadly agrees with the field observations indicating that the reduction in biomass carbon uptake was stronger in 2005 than 2010. The enhanced canopy growth preceding drought-induced senescence should be taken into account when interpreting the ecological impacts of Amazonian droughts.