The etiology of severe pneumonia requiring mechanical ventilation in the very elderly has been imprecise because of lack of comprehensive studies and low yield of diagnostic approach. Overall, 104 patients 75 yr of age and older with severe pneumonia were studied prospectively at two university-affiliated hospitals. Microbial investigation included blood culture, serology, pleural fluid, and bronchoalveolar secretions. Streptococcus pneumoniae (14%), gram-negative enteric bacilli (14%), Legionella sp. (9%), Hemophilus influenzae (7%), and Staphylococcus aureus (7%) were the predominant pathogens in community-acquired pneumonia (CAP). Staphylococcus aureus (29%), gram-negative enteric bacilli (15%), Streptococcus pneumoniae (9%), and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (4%) accounted for most isolates of nursing home-acquired pneumonia (NHAP). The case fatality rate was 55% (53% for CAP and 57% for NHAP; p > 0.5). Activity of Daily Living (ADL) Index, pulmonary, endocrine and central nervous system (CNS) comorbidities were associated with distinct microbial etiology. By multivariate analysis, hospital mortality was associated independently with 24-h urine output (odds ratio [OR], 5.6; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.5 to 7.9; p < 0.001), septic shock (OR, 4.3; 95% CI, 1.9 to 8.9; p = 0.0059), radiographic multilobar involvement (OR, 3.7; 95% CI, 1.8 to 15.6; p = 0.02), and inadequate antimicrobial therapy (OR, 2.6; 95% CI, 1.4 to 23.9; p = 0.034). Further studies should focus on identifying effective antimicrobial regimens in randomized trials.