To understand how chronic sediment burial and scour contribute to variation in the structure of algal and invertebrate communities on temperate bedrock reefs, the dynamics of the substrate and communities were monitored at locations that experience sand inundation and adjacent areas that do not. Co-located benthic scuba-transect surveys and high-resolution swath-sonar surveys were completed on bedrock reefs on the inner shelf of northern Monterey Bay, CA, in early winter 2009, spring 2010, and summer 2010. Analysis of the sonar surveys demonstrates that during the 8 months over which the surveys were conducted, 19.6% of the study area was buried by sand while erosion resulted in the exposure of bedrock over 13.8% of the study area; the remainder underwent no change between the surveys. Substrate classifications from the benthic transect surveys correlated with classifications generated from the sonar surveys, demonstrating the capacity of high-resolution sonar surveys to detect burial of bedrock reefs by sediment. On bedrock habitat that underwent burial and exhumation, species' diversity and richness of rock-associated sessile and mobile organisms were 50–66% lower as compared to adjacent stable bedrock habitat. While intermediate levels of disturbance can increase the diversity and richness of communities, these findings demonstrate that burial and exhumation of bedrock habitat are sources of severe disturbance. We suggest that substrate dynamics must be considered when developing predictions of benthic community distributions based on sea floor imagery. These results highlight the need for predictive models of substrate dynamics and for a better understanding of how burial and exhumation shape benthic communities.