In 1790, Abingdon Lock was built, bringing navigation to the town instead of via the Swift Ditch. In 1810, the Wilts and Berks Canal opened, linking Abingdon with Semington on the Kennet and Avon Canal. Abingdon became a key link between major industrial centres such as Bristol, London, Birmingham and the Black Country. In 1856 the Abingdon Railway opened, linking the town with the Great Western Railway at Didcot. The Wilts and Berks Canal was abandoned in 1906 but a voluntary trust is now working to restore and re-open it. Abingdon railway station was closed to passengers in September 1963. The line remained open for freight until 1984, including MG cars until the factory closed in 1980. The nearest railway station is now Radley, two miles (3 km) away. The branchline is now mainly replaced by a cyclepath, whilst the land on which the station stood has been extensively redeveloped, and is now the site of a large Waitrose store and surrounded by hundreds of new flats and houses.
Abingdon was the county town of Berkshire and the magnificent county hall and court house, now the museum, was supposedly designed by Christopher Wren. However, Abingdon's failure to engage fully with the railway revolution, accepting only a branch line, sidelined the town in favour of Reading. The corporation was reformed, under the Municipal Reform Act 1835 and was abolished under the Local Government Act 1972. In 1974, under local government reorganisation, Abingdon became part of the non-metropolitan shire county of Oxfordshire and the seat of the new Vale of White Horse District Council, with Abingdon becoming a civil parish with a town council.
For a town of its size, Abingdon is somewhat bereft of leisure facilities. The Regal Cinema closed in the 1980s and has never been replaced - as with many other parts of the town centre it has now been demolished and the site redeveloped into housing. However, sports and recreation are well catered for in the town, with the purpose-built White Horse Leisure and Tennis Centre, Tilsley Park and the Southern Town Park providing adequate facilities.
The local newspapers are the Oxford Mail and the Abingdon Herald. The Oxford Journal, a free newspaper, has been based in Abingdon for many years and was formerly called the South Oxfordshire Courier. Local radio and television stations are shared with Oxford, although ITV retains a ‘newsgathering’ centre in the town, formerly a broadcasting studio, for ITV Thames Valley.
Shopping in Abingdon has suffered due to the development of out-of-town retail parks in Didcot, Wantage and Witney. The "Tesco Extra" store to the west of the town is the largest supermarket in Abingdon and one of the most profitable Tesco stores in the country.  Nearby is the Fairacres Retail Park, recently redeveloped, which boasts Homebase, Argos and 'Pets at Home' stores as well as several retailers that are part of Anglia Regional Co-operative Society.
The town centre of Abingdon was refurbished in 2007, as part of the council's redevelopment plan. The roads around the area have been changed: notably the one-way system around the centre has been partially changed to two-way. While this has slightly reduced traffic within the historic town centre, congestion has greatly increased elsewhere. Local businesses have also complained that the increased traffic has driven shoppers away.
Also planned for the town centre is a roof over the pre-1970s shopping precinct and the removal of two kiosks. The market square was repaved and a new tourist information centre is planned.
Industrially, Abingdon is best known as the location of manufacture of MG cars (1929–1980). The Pavlova leather works, now closed down, used to be a major employer. Abingdon was home to the Morland Brewery, whose most famous ale was Old Speckled Hen, named after an MG car.