High-resolution climatic records of the late Holocene along the north-west African continental margin are scarce. Here we combine sediment grain size, elemental distribution and mineral assemblage data to trace dust and riverine sources at a shallow-marine sediment depocentre in the vicinity of the Senegal River mouth. The aim is to understand how these terrigenous components reflect climate variability during the late Holocene. Major element contents were measured and mineral identification was performed on three sub-fractions of our sediment core: (i) fluvial material < 2 µm, (ii) aeolian material of 18–63 µm and (iii) a sub-fraction of dual-origin material of 2–18 µm. Results show that more than 80% of the total Al and Fe terrigenous bulk content is present in the fluviogenic fraction. In contrast, Ti, K and Si cannot be considered as proxies for one specific source off Senegal. The Al/Ca ratio, recording the continental river runoff, reveals two dry periods from 3010 to 2750 cal a BP and from 1900 to 1000 cal a BP, and two main humid periods from 2750 to 1900 cal a BP and from 1000 to 700 cal a BP. The match between (i) intervals of low river runoff inferred by low Al/Ca values, (ii) reduced river discharge inferred by integrated palynological data from offshore Senegal and (iii) periods of enhanced dune reactivation in Mali confirms this interpretation. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.