Oceanic intraplate volcanoes grow by accumulation of erupted material as well as by coeval or discrete magmatic intrusions. Dykes and other intrusive bodies within volcanic edifices are comparatively well studied, but intrusive processes deep beneath the volcanoes remain elusive. Although there is geological evidence for deep magmatic intrusions contributing to volcano growth through uplift, this has rarely been demonstrated by real-time monitoring. Here we use geophysical and petrological data from El Hierro, Canary Islands, to show that intrusions from the mantle and subhorizontal transport of magma within the oceanic crust result in rapid endogenous island growth. Seismicity and ground deformation associated with a submarine eruption in 2011–2012 reveal deep subhorizontal intrusive sheets (sills), which have caused island-scale uplift of tens of centimetres. The pre-eruptive intrusions migrated 15–20 km laterally within the lower oceanic crust, opening pathways that were subsequently used by the erupted magmas to ascend from the mantle to the surface. During six post-eruptive episodes between 2012 and 2014, further sill intrusions into the lower crust and upper mantle have caused magma to migrate up to 20 km laterally, resulting in magma accumulation exceeding that of the pre-eruptive phase. A comparison of geobarometric data for the 2011–2012 El Hierro eruption with data for other Atlantic intraplate volcanoes shows similar bimodal pressure distributions, suggesting that eruptive phases are commonly accompanied by deep intrusions of sills and lateral magma transport. These processes add significant material to the oceanic crust, cause uplift, and are thus fundamentally important for the growth and evolution of volcanic islands. We suggest that the development of such a magma accumulation zone in the lower oceanic crust begins early during volcano evolution, and is a consequence of increasing size and complexity of the mantle reservoir system, and potentially the lithospheric stresses imposed by increasing edifice load.