Gene regulation differs greatly between related species, constituting a major source of phenotypic diversity. Recent studies characterized extensive differences in the gene expression programs of closely related species. In contrast, virtually nothing is known about the evolution of chromatin structure and how it influences the divergence of gene expression. Here, we compare the genome-wide nucleosome positioning of two closely related yeast species and, by profiling their inter-specific hybrid, trace the genetic basis of the observed differences into mutations affecting the local DNA sequences (cis effects) or the upstream regulators (trans effects). The majority (approximately 70%) of inter-species differences is due to cis effects, leaving a significant contribution (30%) for trans factors. We show that cis effects are well explained by mutations in nucleosome-disfavoring AT-rich sequences, but are not associated with divergence of nucleosome-favoring sequences. Differences in nucleosome positioning propagate to multiple adjacent nucleosomes, supporting the statistical positioning hypothesis, and we provide evidence that nucleosome-free regions, but not the +1 nucleosome, serve as stable border elements. Surprisingly, although we find that differential nucleosome positioning among cell types is strongly correlated with differential expression, this does not seem to be the case for evolutionary changes: divergence of nucleosome positioning is excluded from regulatory elements and is not correlated with gene expression divergence, suggesting a primarily neutral mode of evolution. Our results provide evolutionary insights to the genetic determinants and regulatory function of nucleosome positioning.