Important biological processes, such as vesicle fusion or budding, require the cell matrix to undergo a transition from a lamellar to a nonlamellar state. Although equilibrium properties of membranes are amenable to detailed theoretical studies, collective rearrangements involved in phase transitions have thus far only been modeled on a qualitative level. Here, for the first time, the complete transition pathway from a multilamellar to an inverted hexagonal phase is elucidated at near-atomic detail using a recently developed coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulation model. Insight is provided into experimentally inaccessible data such as the molecular structure of the intermediates and the kinetics involved. Starting from multilamellar configurations, the spontaneous formation of stalks between the bilayers is observed on a nanosecond timescale at elevated temperatures or reduced hydration levels. The stalks subsequently elongate in a cooperative manner leading to the formation of an inverted hexagonal phase. The rate of stalk elongation is similar to0.1 nm ns(-1). Within a narrow hydration/temperature/composition range the stalks appear stable and rearrange into the rhombohedral phase.