Asian summer monsoon (ASM) variability and its long-term ecological and societal impacts extending back to Neolithic times are poorly understood due to a lack of high-resolution climate proxy data. Here, we present a precisely dated and well-calibrated tree-ring stable isotope chronology from the Tibetan Plateau with 1- to 5-y resolution that reflects high- to low-frequency ASM variability from 4680 BCE to 2011 CE. Superimposed on a persistent drying trend since the mid-Holocene, a rapid decrease in moisture availability between ∼2000 and ∼1500 BCE caused a dry hydroclimatic regime from ∼1675 to ∼1185 BCE, with mean precipitation estimated at 42 ± 4% and 5 ± 2% lower than during the mid-Holocene and the instrumental period, respectively. This second-millennium–BCE megadrought marks the mid-to late Holocene transition, during which regional forests declined and enhanced aeolian activity affected northern Chinese ecosystems. We argue that this abrupt aridification starting ∼2000 BCE contributed to the shift of Neolithic cultures in northern China and likely triggered human migration and societal transformation.