Hydrological models have been increasingly used by hydrologists and water resource managers to understand natural processes and human activities that affect watersheds. In this study, we use the physically based model, Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT), to investigate the hydrological processes in the East River Basin in South China, a coastal area dominated by monsoonal climate. The SWAT model was calibrated using 8-year (1973–1980) record of the daily streamflow at the basin outlet (Boluo station), and then validated using data collected during the subsequent 8 years (1981–1988). Statistical evaluation shows that SWAT can consistently simulate the streamflow of the East River with monthly Nash–Sutcliffe efficiencies of 0.93 for calibration and 0.90 for validation at the Boluo station. We analyzed the model simulations with calibrated parameters, presented the spatiotemporal distribution of the key hydrological components, and quantified their responses to different land uses. Watershed managers can use the results of this study to understand hydrological features and evaluate water resources of the East River in terms of sustainable development and effective management.