Kiruna-type iron oxide–apatite (IOA) deposits are an important source of Fe ore, and two radically different processes are being actively investigated for their origin. One hypothesis invokes direct crystallization of immiscible Fe-rich melt that separated from a parent silicate magma, while the other hypothesis invokes deposition of Fe-oxides from hydrothermal fluids of either magmatic or crustal origin. Here, we present a new model based on Fe and O stable isotopes and trace and major element geochemistry data of magnetite from the ∼350 Mt Fe Los Colorados IOA deposit in the Chilean iron belt that merges these divergent processes into a single sequence of events that explains all characteristic features of these curious deposits. We propose that concentration of magnetite takes place by the preferred wetting of magnetite, followed by buoyant segregation of these early-formed magmatic magnetite-bubble pairs, which become a rising magnetite suspension that deposits massive magnetite in regional-scale transcurrent faults. Our data demonstrate an unambiguous magmatic origin, consistent with the namesake IOA analogue in the Kiruna district, Sweden. Further, our model explains the observed coexisting purely magmatic and hydrothermal-magmatic features and allows a genetic connection between Kiruna-type IOA and iron oxide–copper–gold deposits, contributing to a global understanding valuable to exploration efforts.

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