The Zavkhan terrane is a Proterozoic cratonic fragment in southwestern Mongolia that forms the core of the Central Asian orogenic belt. We provide new geologic and U-Pb zircon geochronologic constraints on the Neoproterozoic and early Paleozoic tectonic evolution of the terrane. Orthogneisses dated as ca. 1967 and ca. 839 Ma form the basement and are intruded and overlain by ca. 811–787 Ma arc-volcanic and volcaniclastic rocks that lack a gneissic fabric, suggestive of a mid-Neoproterozoic metamorphic event. Rifting and formation of the Zavkhan ribbon continent occurred from ca. 770–717 Ma and was followed by passive margin sedimentation between 717 and 580 Ma. During the latest Ediacaran to Cambrian, the southern margin of the Zavkhan terrane was reactivated with the obduction of the Lake terrane, slab break-off and reversal, and ca. 509–507 Ma magmatism. Metamorphosed Proterozoic and Cambrian units are cut by undeformed ca. 496 Ma gabbro, providing a tight constraint on the age of Cambrian metamorphism. Late Ordovician to Silurian rifting is marked by bimodal magmatism and deposition in narrow fault-bound basins. Our data indicate that the Zavkhan terrane traveled alone in the Neoproterozoic, collided with the Lake terrane in the late Ediacaran to Cambrian, accreted an unknown crustal block during Cambrian Epoch 2–Epoch 3, and then rifted away in the Ordovician. We suggest the majority of continental growth in Mongolia occurred through the trapping and oroclinal bending of ribbon continents rather than long-lived accretion on the margin of a major craton.