The composition of the microbial community present in the nitrifying-denitrifying activated sludge of an industrial wastewater treatment plant connected to a rendering facility was investigated by the full-cycle rRNA approach. After DNA extraction using three different methods, 94 almost full-length 16S rRNA gene clones were retrieved and analyzed phylogenetically. 59% of the clones were affiliated with the Proteobacteria and clustered with the beta- (29 clones), alpha- (24), and delta-class (2 clones), respectively. 15 clones grouped within the green nonsulfur (GNS) bacteria and 11 clones belonged to the Planctomycetes. The Verrucomicrobia, Acidobacteria, Nitrospira, Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes and Actinobacteria were each represented by one to five clones. Interestingly, the highest 'species richness' [measured as number of operational taxonomic units (OTUs)] was found within the alpha-class of Proteobacteria, followed by the Planctomycetes, the beta-class of Proteobacteria, and the GNS-bacteria. The microbial community composition of the activated sludge was determined quantitatively by using 36 group-, subgroup-, and OTU-specific rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes for fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), confocal laser scanning microscopy and digital image analysis. 89% of all bacteria detectable by FISH with a bacterial probe set could be assigned to specific divisions. Consistent with the 16S rRNA gene library data, members of the beta-class of Proteobacteria dominated the microbial community and represented almost half of the biovolume of all bacteria detectable by FISH. Within the beta-class, 98% of the cells could be identified by the application of genus- or OTU-specific probes demonstrating a high in situ abundance of bacteria related to Zoogloea and Azoarcus sensu lato. Taken together, this study provides the first encompassing, high-resolution insight into the in situ composition of the microbial community present in a full-scale, industrial wastewater treatment plant.