Abstract Background In the Drosophila melanogaster syncytial blastoderm stage embryo anaphase B is initiated by a cell cycle switch in which the suppression of microtubule minus end depolymerization and spatial reorganization of the plus ends of outwardly sliding interpolar microtubules triggers spindle elongation. RNA interference in Drosophila cultured S2 cells may present a useful tool for identifying novel components of this switch, but given the diversity of spindle design, it is important to first determine the extent of conservation of the mechanism of anaphase B in the two systems. Results The basic mechanism, involving an inverse correlation between poleward flux and spindle elongation is qualitatively similar in these systems, but quantitative differences exist. In S2 cells, poleward flux is only partially suppressed and the rate of anaphase B spindle elongation increases with the extent of suppression. Also, EB1-labelled microtubule plus ends redistribute away from the poles and towards the interpolar microtubule overlap zone, but this is less pronounced in S2 cells than in embryos. Finally, as in embryos, tubulin FRAP experiments revealed a reduction in the percentage recovery after photobleaching at regions proximal to the pole. Conclusions The basic features of the anaphase B switch, involving the suppression of poleward flux and reorganization of growing microtubule plus ends, is conserved in these systems. Thus S2 cells may be useful for rapidly identifying novel components of this switch. The quantitative differences likely reflect the adaptation of embryonic spindles for rapid, streamlined mitoses.