Approximately 20 million hepatitis E virus (HEV) infections occur annually in both developing and industrialized countries. Most infections are self-limiting, but they can lead to chronic infections and cirrhosis in immunocompromised patients, and death in pregnant women. The mechanisms of HEV replication remain incompletely understood due to scarcity of adequate experimental platforms. HEV undergoes asymmetric genome replication, but it produces an additional subgenomic (SG) RNA encoding the viral capsid and a viroporin in partially overlapping open reading frames. Using a novel transcomplementation system, we mapped the intragenomic subgenomic promoter regulating SG RNA synthesis. This cis-acting element is highly conserved across all eight HEV genotypes, and when the element is mutated, it abrogates particle assembly and release. Our work defines previously unappreciated viral regulatory elements and provides the first in-depth view of the intracellular genome dynamics of this emerging human pathogen.