In this study, the regional tree-ring chronology of Picea crassifolia was used to estimate annual (September to August) streamflow of the Shiyang River for the period from AD 1765 to 2010. The linear regression model was stable and could explain 41.5% of the variance for the calibration period of 1955–2005. According to the streamflow reconstruction, dry periods with below average streamflow occurred in AD 1775–1804, 1814–1823, 1831–1856, 1862–1867, 1877–1885, 1905–1910, 1926–1932, 1948–1951, 1960–1963 and 1989–2002. Periods of relatively wet years are identified for AD 1765–1774, 1805–1813, 1824–1830, 1857–1861, 1868–1876, 1886–1904, 1911–1925, 1933–1947, 1952–1959, 1964–1988 and 2003–2010. Comparisons with the precipitation reconstructions from surrounding areas supplied a high degree of confidence in our reconstruction. Our reconstructed streamflow is significantly correlated with sea surface temperature in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean and the North Atlantic Ocean. The Multitaper spectral and correlation analyses also suggested that the reconstructed streamflow variation in the Shiyang River could be associated with large-scale atmospheric-oceanic variability, such as El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The linkages among the streamflow reconstruction, NAO and ENSO suggest the connection of regional streamflow variations to the Asian monsoon and westerlies circulations. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.