To assess the impact of HIV infection on mortality and the accuracy of AIDS reporting on death certificates, we analyzed data from 6704 homosexual and bisexual men in the San Francisco City Clinic cohort. Identification of AIDS cases and deaths in the cohort was determined through multiple sources, including the national AIDS surveillance registry and the National Death Index. Through 1990, 1518 deaths had been reported in the cohort and 1292 death certificates obtained. Of the 1292 death certificates, 1162 were for known AIDS cases, but 9% of the AIDS cases did not have HIV infection or AIDS noted on the death certificate. Only 0.7% of the decedents had AIDS listed as a cause of death and had not been reported to AIDS surveillance. AIDS and HIV infection was the leading cause of death in the cohort, with the highest proportionate mortality ratio (85%) and standardized mortality ratio (153 in 1987), and the largest number of years of potential life lost (32,008 years). The devastating impact of HIV infection on mortality is increasing and will require continued efforts to prevent and treat HIV infection.