Determining the age of siliciclastic continental sequences in the absence of comprehensive biostratigraphy or radiometric dating of geological markers (e.g., volcanic layers) is inherently challenging. This issue is well exemplified in the current debate on the age of Cenozoic terrestrial strata in Central Asia, where competing age models constrained by non-unique paleomagnetic correlations are interpreted to reflect the growth of the Tibetan Plateau and its impact on Central Asian climate change. Here we present a new approach to evaluate competing age models by comparing the onset of rapid basement exhumation constrained by low-temperature thermochronology in the sediment source region with the initiation of growth strata in the adjacent sedimentary sink. We first validate this method in regions with well-constrained age models and subsequently apply this approach to the Tarim and Qaidam Basins in the northern Tibetan Plateau. The results of this analysis show that syntectonic sedimentation had already initiated during the Paleocene−Eocene and was followed by intensified Oligocene−Miocene mountain building along the northern margin of the plateau. Based on this refined Paleogene tectonic history, we further arrive at a temporal correlation between Paleogene tectonism in Northern Tibet and the retreat of the Proto-Paratethys Sea, a major water body that extended across Eurasia and was closely associated with climatic and biodiversity changes. We thus highlight the previously underestimated role tectonics in Northern Tibet had in the evolution and demise of the Proto-Paratethys Sea during the Paleogene.