In this paper we examine the temporal ordering of midtail flow bursts, Pi2 pulsations, and auroral arc brightening at substorm onset. We present three substorm events for which the Geotail spacecraft was situated at local midnight, near the inner edge of the plasmasheet. We show that high-speed, convective Earthward directed plasma flows observed by Geotail occurred 1–3 min before auroral onset as observed by the Polar Visible Imaging System and Ultraviolet Imager auroral imagers on board the Polar spacecraft. We also show that the onsets of both nightside Pi2 pulsations and magnetic bay variations were simultaneous with auroral onset. We argue that these observations lend strong support to the flow burst-driven model of magnetotail dynamics. We also examine a high-latitude magnetic precursor to onset and show that it is likely due to the currents expected from the passage of a flow burst through the plasmasheet prior to substorm onset. Finally, we calculate an analytic expression for this current and show that it is unlikely to generate discrete auroral structures.