Terminal drought is a major constraint to chickpea productivity. Carbon isotope discrimination (Δ13C), an integrator of plant behaviour influencing transpiration efficiency (TE), is an important component of yield under drought. The variation in Δ13C and its association with yield was assessed in the reference collection of chickpea germplasm. Drought stress reduced shoot biomass by 36–39% and grain yield by 23%. Mean Δ13C was low and the range of genetic variation was high under drought stress. Largely, high Δ13C accessions were early in flowering (40–50 days), moderate in shoot biomass, high in seed yields and high in harvest index (HI). Δ13C was positively correlated with seed yield in both the years under drought stress, only in 2008–09 under optimal irrigation. This positive association was very close with HI. Among the yield components, Δ13C was closely associated with pod numbers per unit area and seed size under drought stress. Path coefficients showed no direct association of Δ13C with grain yield but an indirect negative association through shoot biomass at maturity and a close positive association through HI. The closest association of HI or shoot biomass was seen in the maturity group of accessions that experienced the optimum terminal drought stress.