Staphylococcus aureus bacteraemia (SAB) is associated with substantial morbidity and mortality worldwide. The charts of adult patients with SAB who were hospitalised in a Swiss tertiary-care centre between 1998 and 2002 were studied retrospectively. In total, 308 episodes of SAB were included: 2% were caused by methicillin-resistant strains; 49% were community-acquired; and 51% were nosocomial. Bacteraemia without focus was the most common type of community-acquired SAB (52%), whereas intravenous catheter-related infection predominated (61%) among nosocomial episodes of SAB. An infectious diseases (ID) specialist was consulted in 82% of all cases; 83% received appropriate antibiotic treatment within 24 h of obtaining blood cultures. Overall hospital-associated mortality was 20%. Community-acquired SAB was associated independently with a higher mortality rate than nosocomial SAB (26% vs. 13%; p 0.009). Independent risk-factors for a fatal outcome were age (p < 0.001), immunosuppression (p 0.007), alcoholism (p < 0.001), haemodialysis (p 0.03), acute renal failure (p < 0.001) and septic shock (p < 0.001). Consultation with an ID specialist was associated with a better outcome in univariate analysis (p < 0.001). Compared with a previous retrospective analysis performed at the same institution between 1980 and 1986, there was a 140% increase in community-acquired SAB, a 60% increase in catheter-related SAB, and a 14% reduction in mortality. In conclusion, mortality in patients with SAB remained high, despite effective antibiotic therapy. Patients with community-acquired SAB were twice as likely to die as patients with nosocomial SAB. Consultation with an ID specialist may reduce mortality in patients with SAB.