Abstract We studied the intraspecific evolutionary history of the South American Atlantic forest endemic Xiphorhynchus fuscus (Aves: Dendrocolaptidae) to address questions such as: Was the diversification of this bird’s populations associated to areas of avian endemism? Which models of speciation (i.e., refuges, river as barriers or geotectonism) explain the diversification within X. fuscus? Does the genetic data support subspecies as independent evolutionary units (species)? We used mitochondrial ( n = 34) and nuclear ( n = 68) DNA sequences of X. fuscus to study temporal and spatial relationships within and between populations. We described four main monophyletic lineages that diverged during the Pleistocene. The subspecies taxonomy did not match all the evolutionary lineages; subspecies atlanticus was the only one that represented a monophyletic and isolated lineage. The distribution of these lineages coincided with some areas of endemism for passerines, suggesting that those areas could be regions of biotic differentiation. The ancestor of X. fuscus diverged ∼3 million years ago from Amazonian taxa and the phylogeographic pattern suggested that X. fuscus radiated from northeastern Brazil. Neither the riverine nor the geotectonic vicariance models are supported as the primary cause for diversification of geographic lineages, but rainforest contractions and expansions (ecological vicariance) can explain most of the spatial divergence observed in this species. Finally, analyses of gene flow and divergence time estimates suggest that the endangered subspecies atlanticus (from northeastern Brazil) can be considered a full species under the general lineage species concept.