Adaptive radiation is the likely source of much of the ecological and morphological diversity of life1-4. How adaptive radiations proceed and what determines their extent remains unclear in most cases1,4. Here we report the in-depth examination of the spectacular adaptive radiation of cichlid fishes in Lake Tanganyika. On the basis of whole-genome phylogenetic analyses, multivariate morphological measurements of three ecologically relevant trait complexes (body shape, upper oral jaw morphology and lower pharyngeal jaw shape), scoring of pigmentation patterns and approximations of the ecology of nearly all of the approximately 240 cichlid species endemic to Lake Tanganyika, we show that the radiation occurred within the confines of the lake and that morphological diversification proceeded in consecutive trait-specific pulses of rapid morphospace expansion. We provide empirical support for two theoretical predictions of how adaptive radiations proceed, the 'early-burst' scenario1,5 (for body shape) and the stages model1,6,7 (for all traits investigated). Through the analysis of two genomes per species and by taking advantage of the uneven distribution of species in subclades of the radiation, we further show that species richness scales positively with per-individual heterozygosity, but is not correlated with transposable element content, number of gene duplications or genome-wide levels of selection in coding sequences.