The reliability function of variable-rate Slepian-Wolf coding is linked to the reliability function of channel coding with constant composition codes, through which computable lower and upper bounds are derived. The bounds coincide at rates close to the Slepian-Wolf limit, yielding a complete characterization of the reliability function in that rate region. It is shown that variable-rate Slepian-Wolf codes can significantly outperform fixed-rate Slepian-Wolf codes in terms of rate-error tradeoff. Variable-rate Slepian-Wolf coding with rate below the Slepian-Wolf limit is also analyzed. In sharp contrast with fixed-rate Slepian-Wolf codes for which the correct decoding probability decays to zero exponentially fast if the rate is below the Slepian-Wolf limit, the correct decoding probability of variable-rate Slepian-Wolf codes can be bounded away from zero.