The Qaidam Basin is the largest intermontane basin of the northeastern Tibetan Plateau and contains a continuous Cenozoic sequence of lacustrine sediments. A ~ 1000-m-deep drilling (SG-1) with an average core recovery of ~ 95% was carried out in the depocenter of the Chahansilatu playa (sub-depression) in the western Qaidam Basin, aimed to obtain a high-resolution record of the paleoenvironmental evolution and the erosion history. Stepwise alternating field and thermal demagnetization, together with rock magnetic results, revealed a stable remanent magnetization for most samples, carried by magnetite. The polarity sequence consisted of 16 normal and 15 reverse zones which can be correlated with chrons 1n to 2An of the global geomagnetic polarity time scale. Magnetostratigraphic results date the entire core SG-1 at ~ 2.77 Ma to ~ 0.1 Ma and yielded sediment accumulation rate (SAR) ranging from 26.1 cm/ka to 51.5 cm/ka. Maximum SARs occurred within the intervals of ~ 2.6–2.2 Ma and after ~ 0.8 Ma, indicating two episodes of erosion, which we relate to pulse tectonic uplift of the NE Tibetan Plateau with subsequent global cooling.