According to the mass conservation equation of solid phase, water transport, air migration and enthalpy balance equations in a deformable and unsaturated porous medium, and the mechanics model, a thermal-hydro-mechanical (THM) coupling mathematical model is developed in order to accurately predict the crack propagation of the compacted clay lining (CCL) in a landfill closure cover system. Numerical simulation analysis of the cracking and failure of the CCL in a landfill closure cover system under complex conditions (landfill gas pressure, variation of soil surface temperature, moisture loss of coverage soil, and uneven settlement of landfilled MSW (municipal solid waste)) is performed. The results show that the cracks are discovered firstly on the soil surface and then extend to the deeper cover system and became bigger. The cracks had broken through the closure cover system at 30 days. Over the depth range of 0.06 m, the change rate of settlement is found to be the highest because of the strong influence of temperature. The rise of temperature around the cracks is fast when the CCL is broken through by the cracks. There is a hollow area near the cracks over the depth range from 0.15 to 0.7 m, and the temperature stabilize at around 11°C without any obvious reduction. Under the condition of evaporation, the main crack in the CCL is similar to a pumping well, which causes more rapid moisture content reduction around the cracks. Vertical deformation increases linearly with depth in the process of deformation and cracking of CCL induced by uneven settlement of landfilled MSW. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.