Intracellular density impacts the physical nature of the cytoplasm and can globally affect cellular processes, yet density regulation remains poorly understood. Here, using a new quantitative phase imaging method, we determined that dry-mass density varies during the cell cycle in fission yeast. Density decreased during G2, increased in mitosis and cytokinesis, and rapidly dropped at cell birth. These density variations were explained by a constant rate of biomass synthesis, coupled to slowdown of volume growth during cell division and rapid expansion post-cytokinesis. Arrest at specific cell-cycle stages led to continued increases or decreases in density. Spatially heterogeneous patterns of density suggested links between density regulation and tip growth, and septum bending away from higher-density daughters linked density to intracellular osmotic pressure. Our results demonstrate that systematic density variations during the cell cycle are predominantly due to modulation of volume expansion, and reveal functional consequences of density gradients and cell-cycle arrests.