Horizontal gene transfer accelerates microbial evolution. The marine picocyanobacterium Prochlorococcus exhibits high genomic plasticity, yet the underlying mechanisms are elusive. Here, we report a novel family of DNA transposons—“tycheposons”—some of which are viral satellites while others carry cargo, such as nutrient-acquisition genes, which shape the genetic variability in this globally abundant genus. Tycheposons share distinctive mobile-lifecycle-linked hallmark genes, including a deep-branching site-specific tyrosine recombinase. Their excision and integration at tRNA genes appear to drive the remodeling of genomic islands—key reservoirs for flexible genes in bacteria. In a selection experiment, tycheposons harboring a nitrate assimilation cassette were dynamically gained and lost, thereby promoting chromosomal rearrangements and host adaptation. Vesicles and phage particles harvested from seawater are enriched in tycheposons, providing a means for their dispersal in the wild. Similar elements are found in microbes co-occurring with Prochlorococcus, suggesting a common mechanism for microbial diversification in the vast oligotrophic oceans.