Scalable and sustainable solar hydrogen production through photocatalytic water splitting requires highly active and stable earth-abundant co-catalysts to replace expensive and rare platinum. Here we employ density functional theory calculations to direct atomic-level exploration, design and fabrication of a MXene material, Ti3C2 nanoparticles, as a highly efficient co-catalyst. Ti3C2 nanoparticles are rationally integrated with cadmium sulfide via a hydrothermal strategy to induce a super high visible-light photocatalytic hydrogen production activity of 14,342 μmol h−1 g−1 and an apparent quantum efficiency of 40.1% at 420 nm. This high performance arises from the favourable Fermi level position, electrical conductivity and hydrogen evolution capacity of Ti3C2 nanoparticles. Furthermore, Ti3C2 nanoparticles also serve as an efficient co-catalyst on ZnS or Zn x Cd1−x S. This work demonstrates the potential of earth-abundant MXene family materials to construct numerous high performance and low-cost photocatalysts/photoelectrodes.