Synaptic transmission is mediated by neurotransmitters that are stored in synaptic vesicles and released by exocytosis upon activation. The vesicle membrane is then retrieved by endocytosis, and synaptic vesicles are regenerated and re-filled with neurotransmitter. Although many aspects of vesicle recycling are understood, the fate of the vesicles after fusion is still unclear. Do their components diffuse on the plasma membrane, or do they remain together? This question has been difficult to answer because synaptic vesicles are too small (approximately 40 nm in diameter) and too densely packed to be resolved by available fluorescence microscopes. Here we use stimulated emission depletion (STED) to reduce the focal spot area by about an order of magnitude below the diffraction limit, thereby resolving individual vesicles in the synapse. We show that synaptotagmin I, a protein resident in the vesicle membrane, remains clustered in isolated patches on the presynaptic membrane regardless of whether the nerve terminals are mildly active or intensely stimulated. This suggests that at least some vesicle constituents remain together during recycling. Our study also demonstrates that questions involving cellular structures with dimensions of a few tens of nanometres can be resolved with conventional far-field optics and visible light.