Despite tremendous investments in understanding the complex molecular mechanisms underlying Alzheimer disease (AD), recent clinical trials have failed to show efficacy. A potential problem underlying these failures is the assumption that the molecular mechanism mediating the genetically determined form of the disease is identical to the one resulting in late-onset AD. Here, we integrate experimental evidence outside the 'spotlight' of the genetic drivers of amyloid-β (Aβ) generation published during the past two decades, and present a mechanistic explanation for the pathophysiological changes that characterize late-onset AD. We propose that chronic inflammatory conditions cause dysregulation of mechanisms to clear misfolded or damaged neuronal proteins that accumulate with age, and concomitantly lead to tau-associated impairments of axonal integrity and transport. Such changes have several neuropathological consequences: focal accumulation of mitochondria, resulting in metabolic impairments; induction of axonal swelling and leakage, followed by destabilization of synaptic contacts; deposition of amyloid precursor protein in swollen neurites, and generation of aggregation-prone peptides; further tau hyperphosphorylation, ultimately resulting in neurofibrillary tangle formation and neuronal death. The proposed sequence of events provides a link between Aβ and tau-related neuropathology, and underscores the concept that degenerating neurites represent a cause rather than a consequence of Aβ accumulation in late-onset AD.