Massive evaporites were deposited in the Central European Paratethys Sea during the Badenian salinity crisis (BSC). The scarcity of absolute age data has hampered a thorough understanding of these salt deposits. Here we present a robust chronology for this catastrophic event by 40Ar/39Ar dating of volcanic tuffs below and within the Badenian salts in southern Poland. The onset of BSC evaporite deposition is dated at 13.81 ± 0.08 Ma and the entire event is estimated to have lasted 200–600 k.y. Correlation to oxygen isotope records shows that the BSC evaporites were just preceded by glacial event Mi-3b, suggesting a causal relationship. The corresponding sea-level fall most likely restricted the open marine connection to the Mediterranean, thereby trapping the salt in the deep Paratethys basins.