Extensive use and inadequate disposal of chloroethenes have led to prevalent groundwater contamination worldwide. The occurrence of the lesser chlorinated ethenes [i.e. vinyl chloride (VC) and cis-1,2-dichloroethene (cDCE)] in groundwater is primarily a consequence of incomplete anaerobic reductive dechlorination of the more highly chlorinated ethenes (tetrachloroethene and trichloroethene). VC and cDCE are toxic and VC is a known human carcinogen. Therefore, their presence in groundwater is undesirable. In situ cleanup of VC- and cDCE-contaminated groundwater via oxidation by aerobic microorganisms is an attractive and potentially cost-effective alternative to physical and chemical approaches. Of particular interest are aerobic bacteria that use VC or cDCE as growth substrates (known as the VC- and cDCE-assimilating bacteria). Bacteria that grow on VC are readily isolated from contaminated and uncontaminated environments, suggesting that they are widespread and influential in aerobic natural attenuation of VC. In contrast, only one cDCE-assimilating strain has been isolated, suggesting that their environmental occurrence is rare. In this review, we will summarize the current knowledge of the physiology, biodegradation pathways, genetics, ecology, and evolution of VC- and cDCE-assimilating bacteria. Techniques (e.g. PCR, proteomics, and compound-specific isotope analysis) that aim to determine the presence, numbers, and activity of these bacteria in the environment will also be discussed.