The abnormal expression and regulation of circular RNA (circRNA) is involved in the occurrence and development of a variety of tumors. The current study aimed to determine the role of circRNA_141539 in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC). CircRNA_141539 expression in ESCC was detected via circRNA chip analysis and verified via reverse transcription-quantitative PCR. Associations between circRNA_141539, patient clinicopathological characteristics and prognosis were also statistically analyzed. Additionally, the effects of circRNA_141539 on ESCC cell proliferation and invasion were assessed. A dual-luciferase assay was performed to analyze the interaction between circRNAs, microRNAs (miRs) and mRNAs. The results revealed that circRNA_141539 was significantly up-regulated in patients with ESCC. Furthermore, high circRNA_141539 expressions were significantly associated with TNM stage, differentiation and poor prognosis, revealing high diagnostic value (P<0.05). Furthermore, circRNA_141539 overexpression promoted cell proliferation and invasion, while circRNA_141539 silencing inhibited cell proliferation and invasion (P<0.05). The dual-luciferase reporter assay identified that circRNA_141539 directly binds to miR-4469 and also revealed that cyclin-dependent kinase-3 (CDK3) was negatively regulated by miR-4469. The results indicated that circRNA_141539 served as an oncogenic factor in ESCC by sponging miR-4469 and activating CDK3 expression. circRNA_141539 may present as a novel diagnostic and prognostic biomarker and a therapeutic target for patients with ESCC.