Proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) are promising devices for clean power generation in automotive, stationary, and portable applications. Perfluorosulfonic acid (PFSA) ionomers (for example, Nafion) have been the benchmark PEMs; however, several problems, including high gas permeability, low thermal stability, high production cost, and environmental incompatibility, limit the widespread dissemination of PEMFCs. It is believed that fluorine-free PEMs can potentially address all of these issues; however, none of these membranes have simultaneously met the criteria for both high performance (for example, proton conductivity) and durability (for example, mechanical and chemical stability). We present a polyphenylene-based PEM (SPP-QP) that fulfills the required properties for fuel cell applications. The newly designed PEM exhibits very high proton conductivity, excellent membrane flexibility, low gas permeability, and extremely high stability, with negligible degradation even under accelerated degradation conditions, which has never been achieved with existing fluorine-free PEMs. The polyphenylene PEM also exhibits reasonably high fuel cell performance, with excellent durability under practical conditions. This new PEM extends the limits of existing fluorine-free proton-conductive materials and will help to realize the next generation of PEMFCs via cost reduction as well as the performance improvement compared to the present PFSA-based PEMFC systems.