Shifts in bacterioplankton community composition along the salinity gradient of the Parker River estuary and Plum Island Sound, in northeastern Massachusetts, were related to residence time and bacterial community doubling time in spring, summer, and fall seasons. Bacterial community composition was characterized with denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) of PCR-amplified 16S ribosomal DNA. Average community doubling time was calculated from bacterial production ([(14)C]leucine incorporation) and bacterial abundance (direct counts). Freshwater and marine populations advected into the estuary represented a large fraction of the bacterioplankton community in all seasons. However, a unique estuarine community formed at intermediate salinities in summer and fall, when average doubling time was much shorter than water residence time, but not in spring, when doubling time was similar to residence time. Sequencing of DNA in DGGE bands demonstrated that most bands represented single phylotypes and that matching bands from different samples represented identical phylotypes. Most river and coastal ocean bacterioplankton were members of common freshwater and marine phylogenetic clusters within the phyla Proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes, and ACTINOBACTERIA: Estuarine bacterioplankton also belonged to these phyla but were related to clones and isolates from several different environments, including marine water columns, freshwater sediments, and soil.