The ATP-dependent phosphorolytic excision of nucleoside analogue reverse transcriptase inhibitors can diminish their inhibitory effects on human immunodeficiency virus replication. Previous studies have shown that excision can occur only when the reverse transcriptase complex exists in its pretranslocational state. Binding of the next complementary nucleotide causes the formation of a stable dead-end complex in the posttranslocational state, which blocks the excision reaction. To provide mechanistic insight into the excision of the acyclic phosphonate nucleotide analog tenofovir, we compared the efficiencies of the reaction in response to changes in the translocation status of the enzyme. We found that rates of excision of tenofovir with wild-type reverse transcriptase can be as high as those seen with 3'-azido-3'-deoxythymidine monophosphate (AZT-MP). Thymidine-associated mutations, which confer >100-fold and 3-fold decreased susceptibility to AZT and tenofovir, respectively, caused substantial increases in the efficiency of excision of both inhibitors. However, in contrast to the case for AZT-MP, the removal of tenofovir was highly sensitive to dead-end complex formation. Site-specific footprinting experiments revealed that complexes with AZT-terminated primers exist predominantly pretranslocation. In contrast, complexes with tenofovir-terminated primers are seen in both configurations. Low concentrations of the next nucleotide are sufficient to trap the complex posttranslocation despite the flexible, acyclic character of the compound. Thus, the relatively high rate of excision of tenofovir is partially neutralized by the facile switch to the posttranslocational state and by dead-end complex formation, which provides a degree of protection from excision in the cellular environment.