Seasonal changes in environmental conditions have a strong impact on microbial community structure and dynamics in aquatic habitats. To better elucidate the response of bacterial communities to environmental changes, we have measured a large variety of limnetic variables and investigated bacterial community composition (BCC) and dynamics over seven consecutive years between 2003 and 2009 in mesotrophic Lake Tiefwaren (NE Germany). We separated between free-living (FL, >0.2, <5.0 μm) and particle-associated (PA, >5.0 μm) bacteria to account for different bacterial lifestyles and to obtain a higher resolution of the microbial diversity. Changes in BCC were studied by DGGE based on PCR-amplified 16S rRNA gene fragments. Sequencing of DGGE bands revealed that ca. 70 % of all FL bacteria belonged to the Actinobacteria, whereas PA bacteria were dominated by Cyanobacteria (43 %). FL communities were generally less diverse and rather stable over time compared to their PA counterpart. Annual changes in reoccurring seasonal patterns of dominant freshwater bacteria were supported by statistical analyses, which revealed several significant correlations between DGGE profiles and various environmental variables, e.g. temperature and nutrients. Overall, FL bacteria were generally less affected by environmental changes than members of the PA fraction. Close association of PA bacteria with phytoplankton and zooplankton suggests a tight coupling of PA bacteria to organisms of higher trophic levels. Our results indicate substantial differences in bacterial lifestyle of pelagic freshwater bacteria, which are reflected by contrasting seasonal dynamics and relationships to a number of environmental variables.