The objective of this paper is to determine the function in gastrulation of several of the five major regional morphogenetic processes in the African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis. These regional processes are (1) epiboly of the animal cap (AC); (2) migration of the mesoderm on the roof of the blastocoel; (3) convergence and extension of the dorsal, noninvoluting marginal zone (NIMZ); (4) formation of the bottle cells at the site of blastopore formation; and (5) convergence and extension of the involuting marginal zone (IMZ). After the AC and the NIMZ were removed, thus eliminating the first three of these processes, the IMZ involuted, constricted, and closed the blastopore. It also converged and extended to form notochord and somites, although these tissues were often crooked and sank into or were covered over by the vegetal endoderm. When the AC was removed, the dorsal axial mesoderm involuted and stuck to the inner surface of the NIMZ. The IMZ and NIMZ converged and extended together to form a longer, straighter axis than that formed by the IMZ alone. Moreover, presence of the NIMZ also prevented the sinking of the IMZ into the endoderm. Misalignment of the available AC‐NIMZ substratum and the IMZ at the beginning of gastrulation suggested that the IMZ determines the general direction of its own extension. Absence of the AC‐NIMZ accelerated and increased the normal effects of bottle cell formation on the IMZ and vegetal endoderm. In absence of the AC‐NIMZ as a substratum on which to migrate, prechordal mesoderm was pushed anteriorly by the converging and extending mesoderm behind it, but it did not spread normally. We conclude that (1) involution and blastopore closure by the IMZ can occur without pushing by epiboly and convergence and extension of the NIMZ‐AC; (2) involution and blastopore closure can occur without migration of the mesoderm on the blastocoel roof; (3) convergence and extension of the IMZ are sufficient to bring about IMZ involution and blastopore closure; (4) the function of bottle cells in initiating involution is retarded by presence of the NIMZ‐AC; (5) the associated dorsal NIMZ and IMZ together form an axis that extends better and is perhaps stiffer than the IMZ alone; and (6) the dorsal axial and paraxial mesoderm form the “skeleton” around which the mechanics of the other parts of the embryo are organized. These findings are important for the analysis of gastrulation by cellular, genetic, and molecular approaches. © 1993 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.