Most acid sulphate soils (ASSs) in the Pearl River Delta of South China have been traditionally reclaimed for rice cultivation, but the rice yield in most of these paddy fields is lower than the average rice yield in China due to extremely high soil acidity. In the present study, a range of sulphate and acidity parameters were investigated in ASS profiles in three types of paddy fields in Taishan City (Guangdong Province, China) divided based on the local rice productivity (4500, 3000 and 1500 kg/ha) using an abandoned ASS (uncultivated) as the control treatment to ascertain key yield constraining parameters. Soluble acidity (SA), exchangeable acidity (ExA), soluble sulphate (SS) and net acid-soluble sulphate (NAS) increased with increasing soil depths from 0 to 100 cm and then decreased abruptly with further increases in the depth. However, the depth distribution of exchangeable sulphate (ES) was uniform. The soil acidity and sulphate contents differed significantly in three sampled paddy fields. The values of SA and SS in the soils at depths of 0–100 cm in the studied ASS were lower compared with those in the uncultivated ASS and the ExA in soils at depths of 0–40 cm in ASS were lower compared with those observed in the uncultivated ASS. A correlation analysis revealed that SA was strongly correlated with SS and ExA with NAS. Soluble acidity, ExA, SS and NAS in the ASS were significantly associated with rice yield. Exchangeable acidity in the plough layer (0–20 cm) of soils was the most sensitive indicator of soil quality affecting rice yield among those in soils from 0 to 140 cm depth. It is interesting to note that SA, SS and NAS were more sensitive indicators of soil quality affecting rice yield at 60–100 cm than at 0–40 cm depth. Principal component analysis showed that pH value, ExA and ES in soils at depths of 0–40 cm and SA, SS and NAS in soils at depths of 60–100 cm constituted the critical soil acidity and sulphate characteristics that were strongly correlated with rice yields. This finding implies that controlling the ExA in the plough layer and the SA and NAS in the Jarosite layer should be the major focus of studies aimed at the amelioration of ASSs.