The annual number of cases of culture-proven extrapulmonary tuberculosis (TB) at our hospital increased from 47 cases in 1983 to 113 cases in 1988. At least 43% (199) of 464 consecutive patients with extrapulmonary TB during this 6-year period were infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV); since HIV serologic testing was not performed routinely the true HIV prevalence is likely to be higher. Of the HIV-infected patients, 59% were intravenous drug users, 31% were Haitian, 3% were homosexual males, 1% were perinatally-infected infants, and 6% did not have a known risk factor for HIV infection. Ninety-eight percent of the HIV-infected patients were black (84%) or hispanic (14%). The HIV-infected patients were more likely than the control patients to have either disseminated, genitourinary, intra-abdominal, mediastinal, or concurrent pulmonary TB. Fever was nearly universal among the HIV-infected patients, but was absent in about one-third of the control patients. Among untreated HIV-infected patients, disease progression was rapid and nearly always fatal. Among HIV-infected patients who received treatment, the response to therapy, as judged by hospital survival and time to defervescence, was similar to that of the control patients. Despite the extensive tuberculous dissemination among the HIV-infected patients, the diagnosis of TB was difficult and often delayed. In addition to the decrease in tuberculin reactivity and the atypical chest radiograph patterns, there was a need to consider other HIV-related infections in the differential diagnosis. Although sputum specimens grew M. tuberculosis in greater than 90% of the HIV-infected patients in whom they were obtained, sputum AFB stains were positive in less than 50%. Blood and urine specimen cultures were positive in 56% and 77% of the HIV-infected patients in whom these specimens were obtained, but did not provide a means of early diagnosis. Cerebrospinal fluid and pleural fluid were abnormal in nearly all patients with involvement of these sites but were rarely AFB-positive and were, therefore, only suggestive of TB. Procedures such as biopsies and aspirates of peripheral lymph nodes, visceral lymph nodes, liver, and bone marrow provided the highest immediate diagnostic yields with rates between 50% and 90%. These procedures must be considered early in the course of illness in HIV-infected patients with suspected extrapulmonary TB due to the rapidly progressive nature of this often fatal but usually treatable infection.