Increased energy consumption and environmental concerns have driven efforts to produce chemicals from renewable biomass with high selectivity. Here, the selective conversion of cellulose in corncob residue, a process waste from the production of xylose, to levulinic acid was carried out using AlCl3 as catalyst and NaCl as promoter by a hydrothermal method at relatively low temperature. A levulinic acid yield of 46.8 mol % was obtained, and the total selectivity to levulinic acid with formic acid was beyond 90 %. NaCl selectively promoted the dissolution of cellulose from corncob residue, and significantly improved the yield and selectivity to levulinic acid by inhibiting lactic acid formation in the subsequent dehydration process. Owing to the salt effect of NaCl, the obtained levulinic acid could be efficiently extracted to tetrahydrofuran from aqueous solution. The aqueous solution with AlCl3 and NaCl could be recycled 4 times. Because of the limited conversion of lignin, this process allows for the production of levulinic acid with high selectivity directly from corncob residue in a simple separation process.