Occasional rain events occur over the dry season in semiarid ecosystems and cause immediate, large increases in the net CO2 efflux which gradually decrease over a few days following the rain event. In a semiarid grassland located in SE Spain, these precipitation pulses represent only 7% of dry season length but provoked approximately 40% of the carbon emitted during the dry seasons over 2009–2013. We performed a manipulation experiment to decompose the net ecosystem pulse response into its biological processes in order to quantify how much of a role photosynthesis and aboveground respiration play compared to soil respiration. Experimental results showed that while soil respiration was the dominant component of the net CO2 flux (net ecosystem CO2 exchange, NEE) over the irrigation day and the day after (80% of NEE), plant photosynthesis remained inactive until 2 days after the pulse, when it appeared to become as prevalent as soil respiration (approximately 40% of NEE). Additionally, aboveground respiration was generally secondary to soil respiration over the whole experiment. However, statistical results showed that aboveground carbon exchange was not significantly affected by the rain pulse, with soil respiration being the only component significantly affected by the rain pulse.