Imports of iron ore fell 11.8% from a year earlier, imports of rubber were down 22.8% and those of steel products were off 16.2%, according to the General Administration of Customs of China.
The slump has raised the risk of politically dangerous job losses and possible unrest, but the government says the economy still is creating jobs because service industries such as retailing are still relatively strong.
Total trade for the first three quarters grew 6.2%, the customs agency said. That makes it increasingly unlikely China can hit the official 10% target for the year as global demand weakens.
Despite the global weakness, exports set a new monthly record of $186.3 billion. Imports were $158.7 billion. The global trade surplus was $27.6 billion, this year's second biggest after June's $31.7 billion.
China's trade surplus with the 27-nation European Union, its biggest trading partner, contracted by 18.6% to $10.5 billion as European demand for Chinese goods weakened. Exports to Italy fell 26% and those to Germany by 8.7%.
The politically sensitive trade surplus with the U.S. grew 6% to $21.1 billion.
Online: General Administration of Customs of China: