U-Pb sensitive high-resolution ion micro-probe (SHRIMP) analyses of zircons from migmatitic metapelites in the eastern Adirondack Highlands demonstrate that substantial anatexis took place ca. 1050 Ma during the late, but still high-grade, ca. 1090–1050 Ma Ottawan orogeny. These results contrast with data from metapelites of the southwestern Adirondack Highlands and Adirondack Lowlands, which indicate that anatexis occurred ca. 1200–1160 Ma, during the Shawinigan orogeny and subsequent (ca. 1155 Ma) anorthosite-mangerite-charnockite-granite (AMCG) magmatism. Ca. 1180–1150 Ma zircons from this western regime do not contain ca. 1050 Ma (Ottawan) metamorphic overgrowths. The absence of ca. 1050 Ma Ottawan anatexis and overgrowths in the Adirondack Lowlands is explained by the observation that, consistent with titanite cooling ages, post–1150 Ma temperatures did not exceed ~700 °C. In the southwestern Adirondack Highlands, the absence of ca. 1050 Ma anatexis can be accounted for by earlier dehydration of metapelites during ca. 1180–1150 Ma Shawinigan-AMCG metamorphism. The occurrence of ca. 1050 Ma anatexis and formation of metamorphic zircons in the eastern Adirondacks cannot be explained by higher temperatures, because geothermometry indicates that all of the Adirondack Highlands reached a nearly uniform 750–800 °C during this period. Accordingly, the occurrence of ca. 1050 Ma Ottawan anatexis in the eastern regime is interpreted to be the result of: (1) influxes of hydrous fluids at ca. 1050 Ma, or (2) decompression melting during late extensional exhumation. A recently recognized low-angle late Ottawan (ca. 1050 Ma) fault system may have provided both fluid conduits and footwall decompression. The sense of displacement along the shear zone has not yet been unequivocally determined, but preliminary investigations of kinematic indicators demonstrate normal displacement. Thus, this structure may be an analogue of the ca. 1050 Ma northwest-dipping Carthage–Colton zone normal fault system that juxtaposed the Adirondack Lowlands against the Adirondack Highlands. In this context, these fault zones form a quasi-symmetrical core complex or gneiss dome, within which the high-grade core of the Adirondack Highlands was tectonically exhumed. A similar east-dipping, along-strike normal fault in Quebec (Tawachiche shear zone) exhumed the eastern Morin and Lac Taureau terranes at ca. 1050 Ma and may merge with the eastern Adirondack shear zone described here.