The Ganjiang River, one of eight major tributaries of the Yangtze River, located in the western hinterland of the Cathaysia Block, SE China, has a length of 823 km and a drainage area of 82 809 km2, whose detrital zircons provide a valuable means to trace sediment provenances of the river and explore the crustal growth and evolution of the Cathaysia Block. In the current study, 389 concordia zircon U–Pb age spots and rare earth element (REE) contents, in combination with 201 Lu–Hf isotope analyses, have been determined. Oscillatory zoning, high Th/U ratios and REE distribution patterns indicate that most detrital zircon grains are of magmatic origin. The age can be further divided into seven groups: 130–185 Ma with a peak at 153 Ma (7 %); 217–379 Ma with a peak at 224 Ma (16 %); 390–494 Ma with a peak at 424 Ma (37 %); 500–698 Ma with a peak at 624 Ma (5 %); 716–897 Ma with a peak at 812 Ma (10 %); 902–1191 Ma with a peak at 976 Ma (13 %); and 2232–2614 Ma with a peak at 2471 Ma (5 %). The sources of almost all the zircon age groups can be found from the exposed rocks. In particular, Yanshanian, Hercynian to Indosinian, Pan-African, Grenvillian and Palaeoproterozoic–Archaean zircons can be mainly sourced from the northern Guangdong – southern Jiangxi – western Fujian region, while Caledonian zircons come from southern and central Jiangxi, and Jinningian zircons are from central and northern Jiangxi. Most determined zircon grains exhibit negative εHf(t) values and TDM2 ages of 797 to 4016 Ma with a wide peak at 1500–2100 Ma and a keen peak at 1824 Ma, suggesting that most zircons are sourced from the reworked ancient crustal materials or crust–mantle mixing. The zircon Hf model age cumulative probability diagram shows that rapid crustal growth took place at the Palaeo- to Mesoproterozoic and that about 90 % of the crust of the Cathaysia Block was formed before 1.5 Ga.