Uplift of the Tibetan Plateau is thought to be one of the most important orogenic and climate forcing events of the Cenozoic Era, associated with geodynamic changes related to India-Asia collision and subsequent continental lithosphere subduction. However, the fate and scale of the subducted continental lithosphere segments remain highly controversial. Using a comprehensive compilation of the spatiotemporal distribution of postcollisional magmatic rocks across Tibet, together with new geochemical and Sr-Nd-Pb isotopic data and modeling simulations, we propose a holistic, two-stage evolutionary model to explain the link between genesis of the magmas and continental subduction. The magmatism prior to 25 Ma resulted from continuous upwelling of a carbonate-rich upper-mantle plume induced by northward underthrusting of Indian oceanic and continental lithosphere with its cover of Tethyan platform carbonate sediments, whereas magmatism after 25 Ma was related to opposing north-directed and south-directed continental subduction. Our model indicates a transformation in the distribution and nature of the magmatism in Tibet at ca. 25 Ma, which reflects a significant change in the Himalayan-Tibetan orogen and associated mantle dynamic processes in the early Miocene. Understanding this transformation could have important implications for the utility of the Himalayan-Tibetan system as a modern analogue for ancient orogens.