The transition from G1 into DNA replication (S phase) is an emergent behavior resulting from dynamic and complex interactions between cyclin-dependent kinases (Cdks), Cdk inhibitors (CKIs), and the anaphase-promoting complex/cyclosome (APC/C). Understanding the cellular decision to commit to S phase requires a quantitative description of these interactions. We apply quantitative imaging of single human cells to track the expression of G1/S regulators and use these data to parametrize a stochastic mathematical model of the G1/S transition. We show that a rapid, proteolytic, double-negative feedback loop between Cdk2:Cyclin and the Cdk inhibitor p27Kip1 drives a switch-like entry into S phase. Furthermore, our model predicts that increasing Emi1 levels throughout S phase are critical in maintaining irreversibility of the G1/S transition, which we validate using Emi1 knockdown and live imaging of G1/S reporters. This work provides insight into the general design principles of the signaling networks governing the temporally abrupt transitions between cell-cycle phases.