Wheat is sensitive to high temperatures, but the spatial and temporal variability of high temperature and its impact on yield are often not known. An analysis of historical climate and yield data was undertaken to characterize the spatial and temporal variability of heat stress between heading and maturity and its impact on wheat grain yield in China. Several heat stress indices were developed to quantify heat intensity, frequency, and duration between heading and maturity based on measured maximum temperature records of the last 50 years from 166 stations in the main wheat-growing region of China. Surprisingly, heat stress between heading and maturity was more severe in the generally cooler northern wheat-growing regions than the generally warmer southern regions of China, because of the delayed time of heading with low temperatures during the earlier growing season and the exposure of the post-heading phase into the warmer part of the year. Heat stress between heading and maturity has increased in the last decades in most of the main winter wheat production areas of China, but the rate was higher in the south than in the north. The correlation between measured grain yields and post-heading heat stress and average temperature were statistically significant in the entire wheat-producing region, and explained about 29% of the observed spatial and temporal yield variability. A heat stress index considering the duration and intensity of heat between heading and maturity was required to describe the correlation of heat stress and yield variability. Because heat stress is a major cause of yield loss and the number of heat events is projected to increase in the future, quantifying the future impact of heat stress on wheat production and developing appropriate adaptation and mitigation strategies are critical for developing food security policies in China and elsewhere.