A single mutagen can generate multiple different types of DNA lesions. How different repair pathways cooperate in complex DNA lesions, however, remains largely unclear. Here we measured, clustered, and modeled the kinetics of recruitment and dissociation of 70 DNA repair proteins to laser-induced DNA damage sites in HeLa cells. The precise timescale of protein recruitment reveals that error-prone translesion polymerases are considerably delayed compared to error-free polymerases. We show that this is ensured by the delayed recruitment of RAD18 to double-strand break sites. The time benefit of error-free polymerases disappears when PARP inhibition significantly delays PCNA recruitment. Moreover, removal of PCNA from complex DNA damage sites correlates with RPA loading during 5'-DNA end resection. Our systematic study of the dynamics of DNA repair proteins in complex DNA lesions reveals the multifaceted coordination between the repair pathways and provides a kinetics-based resource to study genomic instability and anticancer drug impact.