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Constraining thickness and geothermal gradient of Archean continental crust are crucial to understanding geodynamic regimes of the early Earth. Archean crust-sourced tonalitic–trondhjemitic–granodioritic gneisses are ideal lithologies for reconstructing the thermal state of early continental crust. Integrating experimental results with petrochemical data from the Eastern Block of the North China Craton allows us to establish temporal–spatial variations in thickness, geothermal gradient and basal heat flow across the block, which we relate to cooling mantle potential temperature and resultant changing geodynamic regimes from vertical tectonics in the late Mesoarchean (~2.9 Ga) to plate tectonics with hot subduction in the early to late Neoarchean (~2.7–2.5 Ga). Here, we show the transition to a plate tectonic regime plays an important role in the rapid cooling of the mantle, and thickening and strengthening of the lithosphere, which in turn prompted stabilization of the cratonic lithosphere at the end of the Archean.