The Andean Cordillera is widely considered to be one of the type examples of a convergent margin setting. In the southernmost Andes, however, rifting and volcanism predated mid-Cretaceous breakup of Gondwana and formation of the South Atlantic Ocean by up to 40 m.y. and culminated in the opening of the Rocas Verdes backarc basin east of the Mesozoic Patagonian Batholith. We present new U-Pb geochronology from the Austral sector (49°S–50°S) that indicates rift volcanism occurred between 154 and 147 Ma near the northern terminus of the basin. Available data and observations from the southern Rocas Verdes Basin indicate larger-magnitude and longer-duration extension compared to the northern basin region. The Rocas Verdes Basin underwent progressive northward propagation and opening and was later backfilled concomitantly with the opening of the southern Atlantic Ocean by north-to-south deposition within a retroarc foreland setting. The influence of the inherited tectonic fabric of the Rocas Verdes backarc basin on the subsequent foreland basin explains many unique characteristics of the Patagonian Andes, such as a protracted deep basin that formed atop the previously rifted and weakened crust. Moreover, the early rift history helps account for intraplate deformation of southernmost South America during the opening of the South Atlantic Ocean.