Increasingly growing consumption-based water use (WU) combined with climate change have exacerbated water stress globally and regionally, yet little is known about how the WU change is affected by metacoupled processes which involve human-nature interactions across space; within and across adjacent and distant places. This study aims to unveil the spatio-temporal pattern of China's WUs during 2007–2015 and its underlying local and non-local drivers. Results show that China's total WU exhibited an upward trend from 386.7 billion m³; in 2007 to 431.2 billion m³ in 2012 but dropped to 412.6 billion m³ by 2015. Widespread and continuous water use efficiency improvement contributed most to offsetting the increase in WU driven by the rising affluence and growing population in the context of rapid urbanization and industrialization. Economic structure drove a relatively large WU reduction (responsible for −23.7% of the WU change during 2007–2015), in line with China's ongoing transform from a capital investment-driven economy to a consumption-driven one and decoupling economic growth from environmental pressure. The population share representing the non-local factor of migration effect was large enough to be seen clearly in the changing WUs across China: the WUs of coastal areas ascended while inland areas descended, which was in accordance with migration patterns. Our findings could make a valuable contribution to decision-making in identifying hotspot areas, charting systematic courses for sustainable water use, and combining demand-oriented and supply-oriented measures.