Reverse gyrase (RG) is the only protein found ubiquitously in hyperthermophilic organisms, but absent from mesophiles. As such, its simple presence or absence allows us to deduce information about the optimal growth temperature of long-extinct organisms, even as far as the last universal common ancestor of extant life (LUCA). The growth environment and gene content of the LUCA has long been a source of debate in which RG often features. In an attempt to settle this debate, we carried out an exhaustive search for RG proteins, generating the largest RG data set to date. Comprising 376 sequences, our data set allows for phylogenetic reconstructions of RG with unprecedented size and detail. These RG phylogenies are strikingly different from those of universal proteins inferred to be present in the LUCA, even when using the same set of species. Unlike such proteins, RG does not form monophyletic archaeal and bacterial clades, suggesting RG emergence after the formation of these domains, and/or significant horizontal gene transfer. Additionally, the branch lengths separating archaeal and bacterial groups are very short, inconsistent with the tempo of evolution from the time of the LUCA. Despite this, phylogenies limited to archaeal RG resolve most archaeal phyla, suggesting predominantly vertical evolution since the time of the last archaeal ancestor. In contrast, bacterial RG indicates emergence after the last bacterial ancestor followed by significant horizontal transfer. Taken together, these results suggest a nonhyperthermophilic LUCA and bacterial ancestor, with hyperthermophily emerging early in the evolution of the archaeal and bacterial domains. © The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.