Databases containing information regarding presence and activity of microbial communities will be very useful for determination of the potential for intrinsic bioremediation in landfill leachate polluted aquifers. Simple analyses such as community-level physiological profiling (CLPP) and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) of 16S rDNA fragments yield large sets of data for inclusion into such databases. In this study we describe the development of a method for anaerobic CLPP, using commercially available Biolog plates. Incubation at the in situ temperature of the aquifer (10 degrees C) for 28 days was optimal for obtaining a specific, reproducible physiological profile. Anaerobic incubation was essential for profiling anaerobic communities. The anaerobic cultivation-dependent CLPP method and cultivation-independent DGGE were applied to groundwater and sediment samples from the aquifer near the Coupépolder landfill in The Netherlands. A combination of computer-assisted CLPP and DGGE analysis of both groundwater and sediment samples yielded the best separating power for characterizing microbial communities in the aquifer. Communities in groundwater were significantly different from those in the corresponding sediment. Microbial communities present in subsamples from sediment cores usually were similar for the various sampling locations. Variation was observed for the heterogeneous sediment beneath the landfill. Both anaerobic CLPP and DGGE analysis clearly separated microbial communities from the polluted aquifer underneath the landfill from those in the less or not polluted aquifer downstream and upstream of the landfill.