They had started to dip their toes into the waters around this point - I believe ABC actors started doing chats with Prodigy, AOL, etc. in 1994 and 1995 - but it definitely was not a thing for a majority of the audience.
I also had no idea it was Gwyn. Admittedly I did not see the full story (I think I started watching around the time Curtis died), and I didn't really know the history of the characters, but Christine Tudor did such a wonderful job playing the pain of Gwyn (the moment where we heard her cry out in agony at learning of Cabot and Isabelle still stays with me), and I was also completely fooled by the attempt on Gwyn and Ally's life. It still makes sense even after the reveal, because Gwyn was not one of those soap killers Henry Slesar wrote so well who had many detailed plans to survive - she would have been fine with dying that night (and she wasn't close enough to Ally to care if Ally died with her).
This was 1995. Online wasn't a thing.
I wonder if they could pull off a story like this now. Not just departures being leaked and stuff but fans putting together the kind of clues you mention.
I was genuinely shocked at some of the twists and turns at the time. And I had NO idea it was Gwyn until the very last moment.
I think any actor who is on a show for a decade and has been involved in at least two highly popular pairings can think that the show can give them something at contract renewal.
Any employee expects regular raises, regardless of what how their business does. What they do if they are not given that raise, or those non-financial parks, THAT is where we see if they have leverage.
AND a key to this is General Hospital was very publicly courting her for the high-profile recast of Carly. They had approached when TB left. It was an open secret (we fans knew). That certainly gave her a point of leverage with GL and she wasn't a complete fool to think she was in demand.
And in the end that's what happened. She may have stayed even after their "No dice" if she had no other option. But she had one big shiny one at her disposal and she took it.
I have less sympathy for huge stars like KZ complaining not getting raises. But I don't blame people who have a family to feed in the highly insecure world of show-business asking for improvements to their contracts once they have earned their oats.