A complex network of regulatory pathways links transcription to cell growth and proliferation. Here we show that cellular quiescence alters chromatin structure by promoting trimethylation of histone H4 at lysine 20 (H4K20me3). In contrast to pericentric or telomeric regions, recruitment of the H4K20 methyltransferase Suv4-20h2 to rRNA genes and IAP elements requires neither trimethylation of H3K9 nor interaction with HP1 proteins but depends on long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) that interact with Suv4-20h2. Growth factor deprivation and terminal differentiation lead to upregulation of these lncRNAs, increase in H4K20me3, and chromatin compaction. The results uncover a lncRNA-mediated mechanism that guides Suv4-20h2 to specific genomic loci to establish a more compact chromatin structure in growth-arrested cells.