Grasses are among the most resilient plants, and some can survive prolonged desiccation in semiarid regions with seasonal rainfall. However, the genetic elements that distinguish grasses that are sensitive versus tolerant to extreme drying are largely unknown. Here, we leveraged comparative genomic approaches with the desiccation-tolerant grass Eragrostis nindensis and the related desiccation-sensitive cereal Eragrostis tef to identify changes underlying desiccation tolerance. These analyses were extended across C4 grasses and cereals to identify broader evolutionary conservation and divergence. Across diverse genomic datasets, we identified changes in chromatin architecture, methylation, gene duplications, and expression dynamics related to desiccation in E. nindensis. It was previously hypothesized that transcriptional rewiring of seed desiccation pathways confers vegetative desiccation tolerance. Here, we demonstrate that the majority of seed-dehydration-related genes showed similar expression patterns in leaves of both desiccation-tolerant and -sensitive species. However, we identified a small set of seed-related orthologs with expression specific to desiccation-tolerant species. This supports a broad role for seed-related genes, where many are involved in typical drought responses, with only a small subset of crucial genes specifically induced in desiccation-tolerant plants.