Oesophageal cancers are prominent worldwide; however, there are few targeted therapies and survival rates for these cancers remain dismal. Here we performed a comprehensive molecular analysis of 164 carcinomas of the oesophagus derived from Western and Eastern populations. Beyond known histopathological and epidemiologic distinctions, molecular features differentiated oesophageal squamous cell carcinomas from oesophageal adenocarcinomas. Oesophageal squamous cell carcinomas resembled squamous carcinomas of other organs more than they did oesophageal adenocarcinomas. Our analyses identified three molecular subclasses of oesophageal squamous cell carcinomas, but none showed evidence for an aetiological role of human papillomavirus. Squamous cell carcinomas showed frequent genomic amplifications of CCND1 and SOX2 and/or TP63, whereas ERBB2, VEGFA and GATA4 and GATA6 were more commonly amplified in adenocarcinomas. Oesophageal adenocarcinomas strongly resembled the chromosomally unstable variant of gastric adenocarcinoma, suggesting that these cancers could be considered a single disease entity. However, some molecular features, including DNA hypermethylation, occurred disproportionally in oesophageal adenocarcinomas. These data provide a framework to facilitate more rational categorization of these tumours and a foundation for new therapies.