Beetles represent almost one-fourth of all described species, and knowledge about their relationships and evolution adds to our understanding of biodiversity. We performed a comprehensive phylogenetic analysis of Coleoptera inferred from three genes and nearly 1900 species, representing more than 80% of the world’s recognized beetle families. We defined basal relationships in the Polyphaga supergroup, which contains over 300,000 species, and established five families as the earliest branching lineages. By dating the phylogeny, we found that the success of beetles is explained neither by exceptional net diversification rates nor by a predominant role of herbivory and the Cretaceous rise of angiosperms. Instead, the pre-Cretaceous origin of more than 100 present-day lineages suggests that beetle species richness is due to high survival of lineages and sustained diversification in a variety of niches.