Nitrogen availability is a pivotal control on terrestrial carbon sequestration and global climate change. Historical and contemporary views assume that nitrogen enters Earth’s land-surface ecosystems from the atmosphere. Here we demonstrate that bedrock is a nitrogen source that rivals atmospheric nitrogen inputs across major sectors of the global terrestrial environment. Evidence drawn from the planet’s nitrogen balance, geochemical proxies, and our spatial weathering model reveal that ~19 to 31 teragrams of nitrogen are mobilized from near-surface rocks annually. About 11 to 18 teragrams of this nitrogen are chemically weathered in situ, thereby increasing the unmanaged (preindustrial) terrestrial nitrogen balance from 8 to 26%. These findings provide a global perspective to reconcile Earth’s nitrogen budget, with implications for nutrient-driven controls over the terrestrial carbon sink.