A metamorphic core complex of latest Oligocene age crops out in the Kazdağ mountain range in northwest Turkey. The footwall of the core complex consists of gneiss, amphibolite and marble metamorphosed at 5 ± 1 kbar and 640° ± 50 °C. The average muscovite and biotite Rb/Sr ages from the gneisses are 19 Ma and 22 Ma, respectively, and imply high temperature metamorphism during latest Oligocene times. The hangingwall is made up of an unmetamorphosed Lower Tertiary oceanic accretionary melange with Upper Cretaceous eclogite lenses. The hangingwall and footwall are separated by an extensional ductile shear zone, two kilometres thick. Mylonites and underlying high-grade metamorphic rocks show a N-trending mineral lineation with the structural fabrics indicating down-dip, top-to-the-north shear sense. The shear zone, the accretionary melange and the high-grade metamorphic rocks are cut by an undeformed granitoid with a 21 Ma Rb/Sr biotite age, analytically indistinguishable from the Rb/Sr biotite ages in the surrounding footwall gneisses. The estimated pressure of the metamorphism, and that of the granitoid emplacement, indicate that the high-grade metamorphic rocks were rapidly exhumed at ~ 24 Ma from a depth of ~ 14 km to ~ 7 km by activity along the shear zone. The subsequent exhumation of the metamorphic rocks to the surface occurred during Pliocene–Quaternary times in a transpressive ridge between two overstepping fault segments of the North Anatolian Fault zone. The high-grade metamorphic rocks of the Kazdağ range are surrounded by voluminous calc-alkaline volcanic and plutonic rocks of Late Oligocene–Early Miocene age, which formed above the northward-dipping Hellenic subduction zone. The magmatic arc setting of the core complex and stratigraphic evidence for subdued topography in northwest Turkey prior to the onset of extension suggest that the latest Oligocene regional extension was primarily related to the roll-back of the subduction zone rather than to the gravitational collapse.