Discrete humus layers are common on podzols under temperate coniferous and tropical heath forests, and patchy layers also occur under some temperate broadleaved forests on non-podzolic soils. We used multiple data sets to test the reported association of humus with oligotrophic but non-podzolic soils under non-heath dipterocarp forest at Lambir, Sarawak. We examined the distribution, morphology and nutrient dynamics of necromass on soils derived from sandstone and shale. Concentrations of the main mineral nutrients were lower in fresh litter on the very oligotrophic sandstone soils than on shale. The rates of litterfall were similar, so that annual litterfall fluxes of all nutrients were lower on sandstone. The lower nutrient concentrations and fluxes in the litter on sandstone resulted in slower decomposition, longer residence times and larger standing crops of forest-floor necromass, with lower concentrations of nutrients. The necromass on sandstone sequestered significantly more N, K and Mg but less Ca and Mn than on shale, with no significant difference for P. The variations in necromass nutrient dynamics were associated with morphological differences. There were mats of densely rooted humus under the litter on sandstone, whereas litter lay directly over the mineral topsoil on shale. Spatial associations with soil nutrients were weak for necromass thickness, but clear for humus. The proportions of nutrients in the litterfall and necromass reflected the stoichiometric profiles of the soils. We attribute the differences in necromass nutrient dynamics and their association with soil reserve nutrients to lower rates of nutrient replenishment from the weathering of sandstone than from shale. Necromass characteristics are robust field indicators of multivariate edaphic differences in these and other tropical forests on Acrisols/Ultisols derived from Tertiary clastic sediments.