In thrust bearings, cavitation may occur at high rotational speeds or low lubricant supply pressures, and it will influence the bearing performances. In this paper, a hydrodynamic tapered land thrust bearing has been studied both experimentally and numerically, with concentration on the cavitation phenomenon and its effects on the bearing performances. Evident cavitation regions have been observed in the experiments at higher rotational speeds. Traditional Reynolds equation and 3D Navier–Stokes equation (3D NSE) with a cavitation model have been used for numerical simulation, and the predicted results are examined against the experimental results. Compared with Reynolds equation, 3D NSE with Rayleigh–Plesset model provides better predictions of both oil–film pressure profile and cavitation area. Furthermore, the effects of the cavitation phenomenon on the thrust bearing performances are studied by parametric studies involving various rotational speeds and oil feeding pressures, using 3D NSE. It is found that the load capacity decreases at higher speeds because of enlargement of the cavitation area. And the negative effects of cavitation can be reduced at smaller film thickness and higher oil supply pressure. Conclusively, the above results show that the cavitation phenomenon has significant influences on the bearing performances at higher speeds, and 3D NSE provides an effective tool for analyzing the cavitation effects in thrust bearings.