Biodiversity has always been predominantly microbial, and the scarcity of fossils from bacteria, archaea and microbial eukaryotes has prevented a comprehensive dating of the tree of life. Here, we show that patterns of lateral gene transfer deduced from an analysis of modern genomes encode a novel and abundant source of information about the temporal coexistence of lineages throughout the history of life. We use state-of-the-art species tree-aware phylogenetic methods to reconstruct the history of thousands of gene families and demonstrate that dates implied by gene transfers are consistent with estimates from relaxed molecular clocks in Bacteria, Archaea and Eukarya. We present the order of speciations according to lateral gene transfer data calibrated to geological time for three datasets comprising 40 genomes for Cyanobacteria, 60 genomes for Archaea and 60 genomes for Fungi. An inspection of discrepancies between transfers and clocks and a comparison with mammalian fossils show that gene transfer in microbes is potentially as informative for dating the tree of life as the geological record in macroorganisms.