Unraveling the macroevolutionary history of bryophytes, which arose soon after the origin of land plants but exhibit substantially lower species richness than the more recently derived angiosperms, has been challenged by the scarce fossil record. Here we demonstrate that overall estimates of net species diversification are approximately half those reported in ferns and ∼30% those described for angiosperms. Nevertheless, statistical rate analyses on time-calibrated large-scale phylogenies reveal that mosses and liverworts underwent bursts of diversification since the mid-Mesozoic. The diversification rates further increase in specific lineages towards the Cenozoic to reach, in the most recently derived lineages, values that are comparable to those reported in angiosperms. This suggests that low diversification rates do not fully account for current patterns of bryophyte species richness, and we hypothesize that, as in gymnosperms, the low extant bryophyte species richness also results from massive extinctions.