To reconstruct the history of environmental degradation in Sanliqi Lake (Daye City, central China), multiple proxies were analyzed in a sedimentary core which was dated using 137Cs and spheroidal carbonaceous particles (SCPs). The results show that Sanliqi Lake has experienced serious degradation during the past 60 years, resulting from a large influx of metals and nutrients. Expansion of agricultural and industrial activities between 1945 and 1993 enhanced nutrient and metal enrichment, indicated by increases in metals, SCPs, magnetic susceptibility, total phosphorus, total nitrogen and total organic carbon. Further enrichment of Zn, Cd, Ni and Cr after 1993 was linked to a recent intensification of mining activities. Decreases in Cu and Pb after 2006 probably resulted from recent environmental remediation. This study verified the coupling between lake sediment pollution and human activities in Daye City during the past 60 years. The reconstructed history of lake pollution can provide reference information for continued restoration of Sanliqi Lake and other similar heavily polluted lakes in the developing regions.