Armoured stem-gnathostomes (jawless vertebrates previously termed ‘ostracoderms’) have long been assumed to exhibit strong endemicity. This assumption has underpinned their utility in many palaeobiogeographic studies as well as scenarios regarding the evolution and dominance of jawed vertebrates over their jawless relatives. The hypothesis of endemicity in stem-gnathostomes is investigated for the first time in the light of the phylogeny of the closest relatives of jawed vertebrates – Osteostraci and Galeaspida. Palaeobiogeography of each is reconstructed using Fitch optimization and modified Brooks Parsimony Analysis. Palaeobiogeographic distributions corroborate phylogeny. Results, along with consideration of the Heterostraci, enable identification of similar patterns across groups (broad ancestral range, Early Devonian expansion, endemic and pandemic clades within each, and Middle Devonian radiation events) and inferences to the palaeogeographic relationship between major terranes (i.e. Laurentia, Baltica, Avalonia, Kara, Altaids, South China, Tarim). Comparison of basin and terrane level analyses identifies the different palaeogeographic processes responsible for the distributions of each group: sea-level changes in the case of the Osteostraci and rifting in the case of the Galeaspida. The general endemic nature of the Osteostraci and Galeaspida is confirmed, and thus the hypothesis that the demise and extinction of stem-gnathostomes was because of their limited dispersal capacity is supported.