Tip leakage vortex (TLV) in a transonic compressor rotor was investigated numerically using detached-eddy simulation (DES) method at different working conditions. Strong unsteadiness was found at the tip region, causing a considerable fluctuation in total pressure distribution and flow angle distribution above 80% span. The unsteadiness at near choke point and peak efficiency point is not obvious. DES method can resolve more detailed flow patterns than RANS (Reynolds-averaged Navier–Stokes) results, and detailed structures of the tip leakage flow were captured. A spiral-type breakdown structure of the TLV was successfully observed at the near stall point when the TLV passed through the bow shock. The breakdown of TLV contributed to the unsteadiness and the blockage effect at the tip region.