Extreme rainfall events have serious implications for economic sectors with a close link to climate such as agriculture and food security. This holds true in the Central Rift Valley (CRV) of Ethiopia where communities rely on highly climate-sensitive rainfed subsistence farming for livelihoods. This study investigates changes in ten extreme rainfall indices over a period of 40 years (1970–2009) using 14 meteorological stations located in the CRV. The CRV consists of three landscape units: the valley floor, the escarpments, and the highlands all of which are considered in our data analysis. The Belg (March–May) and Kiremt (June–September) seasons are also considered in the analysis. The Mann-Kendall test was used to detect trends of the rainfall indices. The results indicated that at the annual time scale, more than half (57 %) of the stations showed significant trends in total wet-day precipitation (PRCPTOT) and heavy precipitation days (R10mm). Only 7–35 % of stations showed significant trends, for the other rainfall indices. Spatially, the valley floor received increasing annual rainfall while the escarpments and the highlands received decreasing annual rainfall over the last 40 years. During Belg, 50 % of the stations showed significant increases in the maximum number of consecutive dry days (CDD) in all parts of the CRV. However, most other rainfall indices during Belg showed no significant changes. During Kiremt, considering both significant and non-significant trends, almost all rainfall indices showed an increasing trend in the valley floor and a decreasing trend in the escarpment and highlands. During Belg and Kiremt, the CDD generally showed increasing tendency in the CRV.