The “trophic downgrading of planet Earth” refers to the systematic decline of the world’s largest vertebrates. However, our understanding of why megafauna extinction risk varies through time and the importance of site- or species-specific factors remain unclear. Here, we unravel the unexpected variability in remaining terrestrial megafauna assemblages across 10 Southeast Asian tropical forests. Consistent with global trends, every landscape experienced Holocene and/or Anthropocene megafauna extirpations, and the four most disturbed landscapes experienced 2.5 times more extirpations than the six least disturbed landscapes. However, there were no consistent size- or guild-related trends, no two tropical forests had identical assemblages, and the abundance of four species showed positive relationships with forest degradation and humans. Our results suggest that the region’s megafauna assemblages are the product of a convoluted geoclimatic legacy interacting with modern disturbances and that some megafauna may persist in degraded tropical forests near settlements with sufficient poaching controls.