Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is characterized by aggressive behavior with a propensity for metastasis and recurrence. Here we report a comprehensive analysis of the molecular and clinical features of HNSCC that govern patient survival. We find that TP53 mutation is frequently accompanied by loss of chromosome 3p and that the combination of these events is associated with a surprising decrease in survival time (1.9 years versus >5 years for TP53 mutation alone). The TP53-3p interaction is specific to chromosome 3p and validates in HNSCC and pan-cancer cohorts. In human papillomavirus (HPV)-positive tumors, in which HPV inactivates TP53, 3p deletion is also common and is associated with poor outcomes. The TP53-3p event is modified by mir-548k expression, which decreases survival further, and is mutually exclusive with mutations affecting RAS signaling. Together, the identified markers underscore the molecular heterogeneity of HNSCC and enable a new multi-tiered classification of this disease.