Treatment of Chinese hamster ovary cells with the vacuolar proton pump inhibitor bafilomycin A1 causes a 2-fold retardation in the rate of recycling of transfected human transferrin receptors back to the cell surface as measured using biochemical assays (Johnson, L. S. , Dunn, K. W., Pytowski, B., and McGraw, T. E. (1993) Mol. Biol. Cell 4, 1251-1266). We have used quantitative fluorescence microscopy to determine which step(s) in the endocytic recycling pathway are affected. We show that removal of transferrin from sorting endosomes and accumulation in the peri-centriolar endocytic recycling compartment takes place normally in bafilomycin A1-treated cells. However, the rate constant for exit of transferrin receptors from recycling endosomes (ke) is reduced from 0.063 min-1 in untreated cells to 0.034 min-1 in the presence of bafilomycin A1. This retardation appears to be dependent on the presence of internalization motifs in the cytoplasmic domain since modified receptors lacking these oligopeptide motifs do not show as large a decrease in recycling rate in the presence of bafilomycin A1. Bulk membrane recycling (measured by efflux of an internalized fluorescent lipid analog, 6-[N-[7-nitrobenzo-2-oxa-1, 3-diazol-4-yl--amino-hexoyl- sphingosylphosphorylcholine) is slowed from an exit rate constant of 0.060 min-1 without drug to 0.046 min-1 in the presence of bafilomycin A1. We conclude that bafilomycin A1 slows bulk membrane flow, but it causes additional inhibition of receptor recycling in a manner that is dependent on a peptide motif on the cytoplasmic domain.