Focal adhesions are protein complexes that anchor cells to the extracellular matrix. During migration, the growth and disassembly of these structures are spatiotemporally regulated, with new adhesions forming at the leading edge of the cell and mature adhesions disassembling at the rear. Signalling proteins and structural cytoskeletal components tightly regulate adhesion dynamics. Paxillin, an adaptor protein within adhesions, is one of these proteins. Its phosphorylation at serine 273 (S273) is crucial for maintaining fast adhesion assembly and disassembly. Paxillin is known to bind to a GIT1-βPIX-PAK1 complex, which increases the local activation of the small GTPase Rac. To understand quantitatively the behaviour of this system and how it relates to adhesion assembly/disassembly, we developed a mathematical model describing the dynamics of the small GTPases Rac and Rho as determined by paxillin S273 phosphorylation. Our model revealed that the system possesses bistability, where switching between uninduced (active Rho) and induced (active Rac) states can occur through a change in rate of paxillin phosphorylation or PAK1 activation. The bistable switch is characterized by the presence of memory, minimal change in the levels of active Rac and Rho within the induced and uninduced states, respectively, and the limited regime of monostability associated with the uninduced state. These results were validated experimentally by showing the presence of bimodality in adhesion assembly and disassembly rates, and demonstrating that Rac activity increases after treating Chinese Hamster Ovary cells with okadaic acid (a paxillin phosphatase inhibitor), followed by a modest recovery after 20 min washout. Spatial gradients of phosphorylated paxillin in a reaction-diffusion model gave rise to distinct regions of Rac and Rho activities, resembling polarization of a cell into front and rear. Perturbing several parameters of the model also revealed important insights into how signalling components upstream and downstream of paxillin phosphorylation affect dynamics.