The early Cambrian Period was a key interval in Earth history with regard to changes in both ocean chemistry and animal evolution. Although increasing ocean ventilation has been widely assumed to have played a key role in the rapid appearance, diversification and spatial colonization of early animals, this relationship is in fact not firmly established. Here, we report a high-resolution Fe-C-S-Al-Ti geochemical study of the lower Cambrian Wangjiaping section from an outer-shelf setting of the Yangtze Sea of South China. Iron speciation data document a redox transition from dominantly euxinic to ferruginous conditions during Cambrian Age 3 (c. 521–514 Ma). Interpretation of coexisting pyrite sulphur isotope (δ34Spy) records from Wangjiaping reveals relatively high marine sulphate availability at Wangjiaping. Furthermore, Wangjiaping section shows lower δ34Spy (‒2.1±5.3‰) and lower TOC (2.4±1.1%) values but higher positive correlation (R2 = 0.66, p < 0.01) between TOC and Fepy/FeHR relative to deeper sections reported previously, suggesting that euxinia developed at Wangjiaping in response to increasing marine productivity and organic matter-sinking fluxes. Our reconstructed redox conditions and fossils at Wangjiaping in comparison with previously well-studied strata in the inner-shelf Xiaotan and Shatan sections suggest that planktonic and benthic planktonic trilobites with bioturbation appeared in the oxic water columns, whereas only planktonic trilobites without bioturbation occurred within the anoxic (even euxinic) water columns during Cambrian Age 3. This finding indicates that spatial heterogeneity of redox conditions in the shelves had an important effect on early animal distribution in the Yangtze Block.