Through tectonostratigraphic analysis of the nonmarine, intracontinental Songliao basin in northeast China, four episodes of deformation are recognized: mantle upwelling, rift, postrift thermal subsidence and structural inversion. The episodes are related to regional geodynamics and plate motions. Each episode is associated with a specific stratigraphic signature. The first period of deformation occurred during the Middle and Late Jurassic when asthenospheric upwelling heated, thinned and stretched the lithosphere. These events may have been caused by the narrowing of the Okhotsk Sea through subduction. This deformation is characterized by doming, extension, widespread volcanism and intrusion, and erosion. Volcanics interfinger with alluvial fan and alluvial plain facies systems tracts. The second rifting episode began in the latest Jurassic and continued into the Early Cretaceous. It resulted in the formation of a large number of isolated, NNE-trending fault blocks of ‘basin-and-range’ style. Rifting may have been caused by the formation and subduction of the Izanagi and Pacific Plates. Coal-bearing fluvial, floodplain, lacustrine and fan-delta strata and widespread volcanic rocks filled the fault-block basins. Volcanic strata hundreds to several thousand meters thick in the Huoshiling and Yingcheng Formations record multiple intrusive events during the rifting stage in the basin. These events were concurrent with episodes of intrusion and volcanic eruption in northeast China. The third phase of regional postrift deformation and subsidence, which began with the Lower Cretaceous Denglouku Formation, was caused by lithospheric cooling and extension, modulated by multiple compressional events. Subsidence in the Songliao basin permitted accumulation of thick postrift deposits, in contrast with other Cretaceous basins in Mongolia and northeast Asia. Three compressional episodes, which episodically interrupted the long-term cooling subsidence, originated from development of the Okhotsk suture and subduction of the Pacific plate. In the Early Cretaceous, pronounced compression originated from closure of Okhotsk Sea, forming the mountain ranges of Daxinganling, which provided sediment to the northern part of the basin. In the Late Cretaceous, the intensity of compression from the Pacific margin increased through time, causing westward migration of depocentres and uplift in the east until the end of Cretaceous. Postrift strata, typically 3000–4000 m thick with a maximum thickness of 6000 m, extend beyond the rift blocks and onlap the basin margins to form a large uniform basin. Early thermal subsidence strata include alluvial fan, fluvial, floodplain, shallow lacustrine and delta facies tracts, overlain by large deltaic and lacustrine facies. Late postrift environments featured by large lakes in the basin centre rimmed by delta, fluvial and floodplain environments. Reflection seismic profiles show that strong structural inversion, including folding and uplift, began at the end of the Nenjiang Formation and culminated at the end of the Cretaceous. The main compressional stress field changed from NW to NWW at the end of the Cretaceous, which caused changes in the direction of folding. During the rifting stage, several sets of gas-bearing reservoirs formed in association with coal-bearing source rocks in fluvial and deltaic strata with reservoir-quality volcanics and fluvial and fan-delta sandstone. Thick, widespread mudstone deposited in deep lakes during the postrift stage contains abundant organic matter, and is an important source rock and regional cap rock. Good reservoirs occur in deltaic and fluvial strata. Because of the episodic compressional events that alternately caused subsidence and uplift, reservoirs are sandwiched between source rocks, providing direct fluid communication from source to reservoir.