Deep-sea hydrothermal vents are subject to major disturbances that alter the physical and chemical environment and eradicate the resident faunal communities. Vent fields are isolated by uninhabitable deep seafloor, so recolonization via dispersal of planktonic larvae is critical for persistence of populations. We monitored colonization near 9°50'N on the East Pacific Rise following a catastrophic eruption in order to address questions of the relative contributions of pioneer colonists and environmental change to variation in species composition, and the role of pioneers at the disturbed site in altering community structure elsewhere in the region. Pioneer colonists included two gastropod species: Ctenopelta porifera, which was new to the vent field, and Lepetodrilus tevnianus, which had been rare before the eruption but persisted in high abundance afterward, delaying and possibly out-competing the ubiquitous pre-eruption congener L. elevatus. A decrease in abundance of C. porifera over time, and the arrival of later species, corresponded to a decrease in vent fluid flow and in the sulfide to temperature ratio. For some species these successional changes were likely due to habitat requirements, but other species persisted (L. tevnianus) or arrived (L. elevatus) in patterns unrelated to their habitat preferences. After two years, disturbed communities had started to resemble pre-eruption ones, but were lower in diversity. When compared to a prior (1991) eruption, the succession of foundation species (tubeworms and mussels) appeared to be delayed, even though habitat chemistry became similar to the pre-eruption state more quickly. Surprisingly, a nearby community that had not been disturbed by the eruption was invaded by the pioneers, possibly after they became established in the disturbed vents. These results indicate that the post-eruption arrival of species from remote locales had a strong and persistent effect on communities at both disturbed and undisturbed vents.