The products of the Escherichia coli dnaK, dnaJ, and grpE heat shock genes have been previously shown to be essential for bacteriophage lambda DNA replication at all temperatures and for bacterial survival under certain conditions. DnaK, the bacterial heat shock protein hsp70 analogue and putative chaperonin, possesses a weak ATPase activity. Previous work has shown that ATP hydrolysis allows the release of various polypeptides complexed with DnaK. Here we demonstrate that the ATPase activity of DnaK can be greatly stimulated, up to 50-fold, in the simultaneous presence of the DnaJ and GrpE heat shock proteins. The presence of either DnaJ or GrpE alone results in a slight stimulation of the ATPase activity of DnaK. The action of the DnaJ and GrpE proteins may be sequential, since the presence of DnaJ alone leads to an acceleration in the rate of hydrolysis of the DnaK-bound ATP. The presence of GrpE alone increases the rate of release of bound ATP or ADP without affecting the rate of hydrolysis. The stimulation of the ATPase activity of DnaK may contribute to its more efficient recycling, and it helps explain why mutations in dnaK, dnaJ, or grpE genes often exhibit similar pleiotropic phenotypes.