We compute the two-loop contributions to the free energy in the null compactification of perturbative string theory at finite temperature. The cases of bosonic, type II and heterotic strings are all treated. The calculation exploits an explicit reductive parametrization of the moduli space of infinite-momentum frame string worldsheets in terms of branched cover instantons. Various arithmetic and physical properties of the instanton sums are described. Applications to symmetric product orbifold conformal field theories and to the matrix string theory conjecture are also briefly discussed. © 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.