Field mapping, geochronological analyses, and cross section construction reveal a protracted deformation history and a minimum of 61 km of Cenozoic NE-SW shortening (in present coordinates) across the Yushu-Nangqian thrust belt in northern Tibet. Cenozoic contraction started prior to 51 Ma and was followed first by northwest-striking right-slip faulting and later by northwest-striking left-slip faulting. Renewed NE-SW contraction is expressed by folding of Neogene strata and thrusting, which again was followed by northwest-striking left-slip faults. Late Neogene deformation is expressed by local north-striking normal faults. Shortening across the Yushu-Nangqian belt appears to be accommodated by thin-skinned thrusting, which raises the question of how the deformation was accommodated in the lower crustal levels. To resolve this problem, we perform geochemical analysis of igneous rocks dated as 51–49 and 38–37 Ma. The rocks exhibit geochemical signatures characteristic of subduction, which implies that coeval crustal thickening in northeastern Tibet was most likely induced by continental subduction.