In an effort to ensure energy independence and exploit mineral resources, the governments of Amazonian countries are embarking on a major dam building drive on the basin’s rivers, with 191 dams finished and a further 246 planned or under construction. This rush to harvest the basin’s vast renewable energy capacity has come without proper consideration of the likely negative environmental externalities on the world’s most speciose freshwater and terrestrial biotas. Here we highlight the economic drivers for hydropower development and review the literature to summarise the impacts of dam building on Amazonian biodiversity. We identify both direct and indirect impacts through the anticipated loss, fragmentation and degradation of riparian habitats. We then propose a series of measures to assess, curb and mitigate the impacts of destructive dams on Amazonian biodiversity.