The effect of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) on transplant outcomes after unrelated cord blood transplantation (UCBT) has not been fully elucidated. We analyzed the impact of acute and chronic GVHD on outcomes in adult patients with acute leukemia or myelodysplastic syndrome who underwent their first UCBT (n = 2558). The effect of GVHD on outcomes was analyzed after adjusting for other significant variables. The occurrence of GVHD was treated as a time-dependent covariate. The occurrence of grade 1-2 or 3-4 acute GVHD was significantly associated with a lower relapse rate. Grade 3-4 acute GVHD was associated with a higher risk of non-relapse and overall mortality than no acute GVHD, whereas grade 1-2 acute GVHD was associated with a lower risk of non-relapse and overall mortality than no acute GVHD. Limited or extensive chronic GVHD was significantly associated with a lower relapse rate. Limited chronic GVHD was associated with a lower overall and non-relapse mortality than no chronic GVHD. In conclusion, mild acute or chronic GVHD was associated not only with a low risk of relapse but also with a low risk of non-relapse mortality, and provides a survival benefit in UCBT.