Understanding the onset and episodes of magmatism is essential for comprehending tectonic history, crustal extension, and geodynamic processes. However, due to physical constraints, many places have remained unexplored, which makes it difficult to understand their geological evolution. Following thorough sedimentary provenance analysis, the chronology and periods of magmatism within a drainage area can be revealed through the detrital zircon U-Pb dating method. Here, we present detrital zircon U-Pb ages (n = 1429) obtained from sediments in modern rivers of the Gongga batholith in the eastern Tibetan Plateau. Our results reveal five major magmatic episodes since the early Mesozoic. Three episodes of magmatism occurred in the early to middle Mesozoic (ca. 230–200 Ma, ca. 200–180 Ma, and ca. 180–160 Ma), followed by a protracted period of magmatic quiescence. During the Cenozoic, there were two main periods of magmatism at ca. 50–25 Ma and ca. 25–5 Ma. This is consistent with bedrock geochronological data acquired previously. We propose that the Mesozoic magmatism was most likely caused by post-collisional extension after the closure of the Paleo-Tethys Ocean. The two Cenozoic magmatic episodes are coeval with the progressive intensification of Xianshuihe fault activity. Consequently, these episodes highlight two significant phases of plateau growth in the eastern Tibetan Plateau: the northward push of the Indian plate and “lateral extrusion,” which is consistent with the ongoing subduction of the Indian plate beneath the Eurasian plate.

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