Early eukaryotic ribosome biogenesis involves large multi-protein complexes, which co-transcriptionally associate with pre-ribosomal RNA to form the small subunit processome. The precise mechanisms by which two of the largest multi-protein complexes-UtpA and UtpB-interact with nascent pre-ribosomal RNA are poorly understood. Here, we combined biochemical and structural biology approaches with ensembles of RNA-protein cross-linking data to elucidate the essential functions of both complexes. We show that UtpA contains a large composite RNA-binding site and captures the 5' end of pre-ribosomal RNA. UtpB forms an extended structure that binds early pre-ribosomal intermediates in close proximity to architectural sites such as an RNA duplex formed by the 5' ETS and U3 snoRNA as well as the 3' boundary of the 18S rRNA. Both complexes therefore act as vital RNA chaperones to initiate eukaryotic ribosome assembly.