With ten extant families, salamanders (urodeles) are one of the three major groups of modern amphibians (lissamphibians). Extant salamanders are often used as a model system to assess fundamental issues of developmental, morphological and biogeographical evolution. Unfortunately, our understanding of these issues has been hampered by the paucity of fossil evidence available to assess the early history of the group. Here we report the discovery of an extraordinary sample of salamander fossils, some with rare soft-tissue impressions, from the Upper Jurassic of China. With over 500 articulated specimens, this assemblage documents the morphological diversity of early urodeles and includes larvae and adults of both neotenic and metamorphosed taxa. Phylogenetic analysis confirms that these salamanders are primitive, and reveals that all basal salamander clades have Asian distributions. This is compelling evidence for an Asian origin of Recent salamanders, as well as for an extensive and early radiation of several major lineages. These discoveries show that the evolution of salamanders has involved phylogenetic and ecological diversification around a body plan that has remained fundamentally stable for over 150 million years.