A simple model for the development and evolution of sedimentary basins is proposed. The first event consists of a rapid stretching of continental lithosphere, which produces thinning and passive upwelling of hot asthenosphere. This stage is associated with block faulting and subsidence. The lithosphere then thickens by heat conduction to the surface, and further slow subsidence occurs which is not associated with faulting. The slow subsidence and the heat flow depend only on the amount of stretching, which can be estimated from these quantities and from the change in thickness of the continental crust caused by the extension. The model is therefore easily tested. Preliminary investigations of the Great Basin, the Aegean, the North Sea and the Michigan Basin suggest that the model can account for the major events in their evolution.