An environmental catastrophe
Sometimes, a new species will come into being, and explode across the planet. The population increases drastically within a short time period as they learn to use new materials and new forms of energy. Sometimes, they produce material that is poisonous to forms of life that previously hadn’t encountered such substances. Many species can be pushed to the edge of extinction and beyond. This happened approximately 2.5 billion years ago, with the rise of cyanobacteria. The toxic material that was being produced was oxygen. Though it was catastrophic at the time, the presence of oxygen allowed for a new form of life, which could use the free oxygen as an energy source. This allowed for the arrival of the animals, and eventually, us.