Widespread alteration in the Upper Cretaceous pyroclastic units of the Tirebolu (Giresun) area, NE Turkey, has resulted in significant occurrences of bentonite with economic potential. No detailed geological, mineralogical, or geochemical characterization of these occurrences has been carried out to date. The aim of this study was to describe the geological background, the mineralogical, chemical, and stable-isotope characteristics of the bentonite, and major aspects of their formation, e.g. type and source of low-temperature alteration, mass balance, chemical evolution of the smectites, and geochemistry of major and trace elements. The bentonite contains abundant smectite with occasional kaolinite and mordenite, volcanogenic feldspar, quartz, biotite, hornblende, glass shards, and pumice fragments, along with the diagenetic minerals, opal-CT, and, in some locations, calcite. X-ray diffraction patterns of the clay fractions exhibit characteristics of pure montmorillonite and beidellite-type smectite. Micromorphologically, the smectite exhibits a honeycomb texture, the kaolinite occurs in both vermiform and irregular platy forms, and the mordenite occurs in fibrous form. All of these minerals are edged with devitrified volcanic glass and resorbed feldspar. Chemically, the smectites are Ca-smectite. Geochemical data indicate that alteration of the pyroclastic units took place under suboxic and anoxic environmental conditions during bentonite formation. Field observations and mineralogical, geochemical, oxygen, and hydrogen isotopic data indicate that the alteration of feldspar and volcanic glass in the pyroclastics by mixed meteoric and sea water in a shallow marine environment under alkaline and acidic conditions, respectively, controlled by environmental Al, Ca, and Na concentrations, resulted in the formation of authigenic smectite, mordenite, and kaolinite. A large Ca content in the smectite originated from surrounding units, which resulted in high alkalinity; Mg originated from seawater.