The marine nitrogen cycle is dominated by redox-controlled biogeochemical processes and, therefore, is likely to have been revolutionised in response to Earth-surface oxygenation. The details, timing, and trajectory of nitrogen cycle evolution, however, remain elusive. Here we couple nitrogen and carbon isotope records from multiple drillcores through the Rooihoogte-Timeball Hill Formations from across the Carletonville area of the Kaapvaal Craton where the Great Oxygenation Event (GOE) and its aftermath are recorded. Our data reveal that aerobic nitrogen cycling, featuring metabolisms involving nitrogen oxyanions, was well established prior to the GOE and that ammonium may have dominated the dissolved nitrogen inventory. Pronounced signals of diazotrophy imply a stepwise evolution, with a temporary intermediate stage where both ammonium and nitrate may have been scarce. We suggest that the emergence of the modern nitrogen cycle, with metabolic processes that approximate their contemporary balance, was retarded by low environmental oxygen availability.