The processing of intestinal fluid, in addition to a high drinking rate, is essential for osmoregulation in marine fish. This study analyzed the long-term response of the sea bream (Sparus aurata L.) to relevant changes of external salinity (12, 35 and 55 p.p.t.), focusing on the anterior intestine and in the less-often studied rectum. Intestinal water absorption, epithelial HCO(3)(-) secretion and gene expression of the main molecular mechanisms (SLC26a6, SLC26a3, SLC4a4, atp6v1b, CFTR, NKCC1 and NKCC2) involved in Cl(-) and HCO(3)(-) movements were examined. The anion transporters SLC26a6 and SLC26a3 are expressed severalfold higher in the anterior intestine, while the expression of Atp6v1b (V-type H(+)-ATPase β-subunit) is severalfold higher in the rectum. Prolonged exposure to altered external salinity was without effect on water absorption but was associated with concomitant changes in intestinal fluid content, epithelial HCO(3)(-) secretion and salinity-dependent expression of SLC26a6, SLC26a3 and SLC4a4 in the anterior intestine. However, the most striking response to external salinity was obtained in the rectum, where a 4- to 5-fold increase in water absorption was paralleled by a 2- to 3-fold increase in HCO(3)(-) secretion in response to a salinity of 55 p.p.t. In addition, the rectum of high salinity-acclimated fish shows a sustained (and enhanced) secretory current (I(sc)), identified in vitro in Ussing chambers and confirmed by the higher expression of CFTR and NKCC1 and by immunohistochemical protein localization. Taken together, the present results suggest a functional anterior-posterior specialization with regard to intestinal fluid processing and subsequently to salinity adaptation of the sea bream. The rectum becomes more active at higher salinities and functions as the final controller of intestinal function in osmoregulation.