We perform an extensive study of the properties of global quantum correlations in finite-size one-dimensional quantum spin models at finite temperature. By adopting a recently proposed measure for global quantum correlations (Rulli and Sarandy 2011 Phys. Rev. A 84 042109), called global discord, we show that critical points can be neatly detected even for many-body systems that are not in their ground state. We consider the transverse Ising model, the cluster-Ising model where three-body couplings compete with an Ising-like interaction, and the nearest-neighbor XX Hamiltonian in transverse magnetic field. These models embody our canonical examples showing the sensitivity of global quantum discord close to criticality. For the Ising model, we find a universal scaling of global discord with the critical exponents pertaining to the Ising universality class.