Shortwave vegetation index (VI) and leaf area index (LAI) remote sensing products yield inconsistent depictions of biophysical response to drought and pluvial events that have occurred in Brazil over the past decade. Conflicting reports of severity of drought impacts on vegetation health and functioning have been attributed to cloud and aerosol contamination of shortwave reflectance composites, particularly over the rainforested regions of the Amazon basin which are subject to prolonged periods of cloud cover and episodes of intense biomass burning. This study compares timeseries of satellite-derived maps of LAI from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and precipitation from the Tropical Rainfall Mapping Mission (TRMM) with a diagnostic Evaporative Stress Index (ESI) retrieved using thermal infrared remote sensing over South America for the period 2003-2013. This period includes several severe droughts and floods that occurred both over the Amazon and over unforested savanna and agricultural areas in Brazil. Cross-correlations between absolute values and standardized anomalies in monthly LAI and precipitation composites as well as the actual-to-reference evapotranspiration (ET) ratio used in the ESI were computed for representative forested and agricultural regions. The correlation analyses reveal strong apparent anticorrelation between MODIS LAI and TRMM precipitation anomalies over the Amazon, but better coupling over regions vegetated with shorter grass and crop canopies. The ESI was more consistently correlated with precipitation patterns over both landcover types. Temporal comparisons between ESI and TRMM anomalies suggest longer moisture buffering timescales in the deeper rooted rainforest systems. Diagnostic thermal-based retrievals of ET and ET anomalies, such as used in the ESI, provide independent information on the impacts of extreme hydrologic events on vegetation health in comparison with VI and precipitation-based drought indicators, and used in concert may provide a more reliable evaluation of natural and managed ecosystem response to variable climate regimes.