The maintenance of synaptic transmission requires that vesicles be recycled after releasing neurotransmitter. Several modes of retrieval have been proposed to operate at small synaptic terminals of central neurons, including a fast "kiss-and-run" mechanism that releases neurotransmitter through a fusion pore. Using an improved fluorescent reporter comprising pHluorin fused to synaptophysin, we find that only a slow mode of endocytosis (tau = 15 s) operates at hippocampal synapses when vesicle fusion is triggered by a single nerve impulse or short burst. This retrieval mechanism is blocked by overexpression of the C-terminal fragment of AP180 or by knockdown of clathrin using RNAi, and it is associated with the movement of clathrin and vesicle proteins out of the synapse. These results indicate that clathrin-mediated endocytosis is the major, if not exclusive, mechanism of vesicle retrieval after physiological stimuli.