The dynamics of magmatic processes at large mafic ocean island volcanoes control the likely locations (central caldera versus flanks) and timing of their eruptions. Crystals and their melt inclusions are key witnesses of these processes but are rarely studied in detail and in the same samples. Here we report the crystal and melt inclusion compositions of the April 2007 caldera-forming eruption of Piton de la Fournaise volcano and discuss how they relate to geophysical unrest monitoring data. Olivine crystals show mainly normal zoning (decrease in Mg/Fe) towards the rims, and also around some melt inclusions. Many crystals also show fine-scale skeletal structures defined by high phosphorus concentrations. Melt inclusions contain 53–205 ppm CO2 and 0.25–1.1 wt% H2O, and δD (δD values expressed as δDVSMOW) ranges from −135 to 62‰. Monitoring data show that inflation of the edifice started about a month before the first 2007 eruption: magma intrusion occurred at ≈3 km below sea level, and quickly migrated towards shallower depths (about 1 km above sea level). Such a time frame of magma movement is recorded in the chemical zoning of the olivine crystals that massively and quickly crystallized when reaching shallow depth, without significant interactions between resident and intruding magmas. The intrusion was followed by lateral flank eruption and caldera collapse. The chemical zoning of the olivine crystal rims and around the melt inclusions indicates that the newly created crystal-mush moved laterally towards the surface in matter of days to 3 months. Post-caldera samples show significant H+ loss, likely due to the depressurization of the magmatic system stored at shallow level. Our findings are different from other mafic ocean island volcanoes or stratovolcanoes (e.g. Kilauea, Canary Islands, and Etna), where crystals commonly record magma mixing between evolved and shallow melts and intruding mafic melts. We speculate that the difference between our findings and those of similar mafic ocean island volcanoes is due to the variety of magma supply rates from depth.