The Wulanba granite, consisting of biotite monzogranite and syenogranite, is located in the southern part of the Great Xing’an Range, NE China. Whole-rock major- and trace-element geochemistry suggests the Wulanba granite is a high-K–shoshonitic, slightly peraluminous and highly differentiated I-type granite. The Sr–Nd–Hf isotopes indicate that it originated from partial melting of juvenile crust derived from the depleted mantle with a minor input of old crust. The relatively young T2DM and tDM2 ages indicate it was most likely derived from a Late Neoproterozoic to Early Palaeozoic source. We have demonstrated that the biotite monzogranite is the ore-related intrusion of the Haobugao Zn–Fe mineralization based on the following geological, geochronological and geochemical evidence: (1) the chalcopyrite/pyrite in the biotite monzogranite and the continuous mineralization of drill core ZK2508; (2) the consistence of the emplacement age of the biotite monzogranite (~141–140/138 Ma) with the skarn mineralization age (~142 Ma); and (3) the presence of rich ore-forming elements (Fe–Zn–Cu) in the biotite monzogranite, and the similar Pb compositions of the sulfides from the Haobugao deposit and the biotite monzogranite. Compared to the barren syenogranite, the fertile biotite monzogranite is more oxidized, while the edges of the apatite grains in the biotite monzogranite are more oxidized than the centres. The average F/Cl ratio of the fertile biotite monzogranite (~123.45) is much higher than that of the barren syenogranite (~73.98). We conclude that these differences reflect unique geochemical signatures, and the geochemical composition of the apatite can be used to infer the economic potential of granites.