Edit 2015-10-01: there's a similar problem on RDS, where logs are written to the same partition as data, which can cause problems if you don't have enough provisioned IOPS (or disk space).
A client of ours was suffering mysterious, intermittent lock pileups on a large table. To diagnose the problem, I ran our lock-logging scripts.
Querying the resulting log_transaction_locks table, I saw lots of extend locks and RowExclusiveLocks piling up behind normal UPDATEs (and INSERTs) — there were even extend locks waiting on other extend locks. This is pretty unusual; you'd expect that when one UPDATE completed, the extend lock would succeed, PostgreSQL would quickly extend the relation (in this case, the big table's TOAST relation), and queries would keep running smoothly. These were all single-row writes; they should have taken that long. However, a complicating factor was that a couple of columns in that big table were giant TEXT columns storing JSON strings. Was that the issue? The problem was unclear, and we needed more info.
At this point my colleague Christophe Pettus made the excellent suggestion to do 'strace -p' on one of the locked processes. The dump revealed lots of sendto() calls with giant strings, which he immediately recognized as syslog messages based on their formatting.
Now, this was a problem. syslog writes to /var, and /var was hanging off the root partition, which was an EBS volume (without provisioned IOPS). So each basically the entire SQL of each query was being written across the network, including those giant JSON strings, and the query itself wouldn't terminate till the write was fsync()'ed. In the meantime, extend locks and other UPDATEs piled up behind it. The PostgreSQL data directory was on a big, fast software RAID across SSD instance storage, but performance was being bottlenecked by that single EBS volume.
The client elected to turn off log_lock_waits, and the problem went away. In addition, Christophe suggested prepending a minus sign to the filename in /etc/rsyslog.d/postgres.conf, like so, which tells syslog not to flush between each log statement:
I thought that was neat: a potential fix to a huge performance problem, in one character(!)
1. If your log_destination contains syslog, be careful about filesystem layout. (If you stick to csvlog, this normally isn't a problem, because csvlogs, by default, go in pg_log/ under the PostgreSQL data dir.)
2. Logging info about a performance problem can sometimes make it worse. In this case, we decided to diagnose the pre-existing lock pileups by setting log_lock_waits = on and deadlock_timeout = 200. But, because of the syslog issue, those very settings exacerbated the lock problems. This was necessary to catch the problem, but it's something to keep in mind if you decide to use our lock-logging scripts.