Tissue remodeling in development and disease involves the coordinated invasion of neighboring territories and/or the replacement of entire cell populations. Cell guidance, cell matching, transitions from passive to migratory epithelia, cell growth and death, and extracellular matrix remodeling all impinge on epithelial spreading. Significantly, the extracellular signals that direct these activities and the specific cellular elements and mechanisms regulated by these signals remain in most cases to be identified. To address these issues, we performed an analysis of histoblasts (Drosophila abdominal epithelial founder cells) on their transition from a dormant state to active migration replacing obsolete larval epidermal cells (LECs). We found that during expansion, Decapentaplegic (Dpp) secreted from surrounding LECs leads to graded pathway activation in cells at the periphery of histoblast nests. Across nests, Dpp activity confers differential cellular behavior and motility by modulating cell-cell contacts, the organization and activity of the cytoskeleton, and histoblast attachment to the substrate. Furthermore, Dpp also prevents the premature death of LECs, allowing the coordination of histoblast expansion to LEC delamination. Dpp signaling activity directing histoblast spreading and invasiveness mimics transforming growth factor-beta and bone morphogenetic proteins' role in enhancing the motility and invasiveness of cancer cells, resulting in the promotion of metastasis.