In this work, we present in depth structural investigations of nanocomposite ZnO: Ge thin films by utilizing a state of the art grazing incidence small angle x-ray spectroscopy (GISAXS) technique. The samples have been deposited by sequential r.f. and d.c. sputtering of ZnO and Ge thin film layers, respectively, on single crystal Si(100) substrates. Transformation of Ge layers into Ge nanoparticles (Ge-np) has been initiated by ex-situ rapid thermal annealing of asprepared thin film samples at 600 degrees C for 30, 60, and 90 s under forming gas atmosphere. A special attention has been paid on the effects of reactive and nonreactive growth of ZnO layers on the structural evolution of Ge-np. GISAXS analyses have been performed via cylindrical and spherical form factor calculations for different nanostructure types. Variations of the size, shape, and distributions of both ZnO and Ge nanostructures have been determined. It has been realized that GISAXS results are not only remarkably consistent with the electron microscopy observations but also provide additional information on the large scale size and shape distribution of the nanostructured components. Published by AIP Publishing.