Publicly available sequence databases of the small subunit ribosomal RNA gene, also known as 16S rRNA in bacteria and archaea, are growing rapidly, and the number of entries currently exceeds 4 million. However, a unified classification and nomenclature framework for all bacteria and archaea does not yet exist. In this Analysis article, we propose rational taxonomic boundaries for high taxa of bacteria and archaea on the basis of 16S rRNA gene sequence identities and suggest a rationale for the circumscription of uncultured taxa that is compatible with the taxonomy of cultured bacteria and archaea. Our analyses show that only nearly complete 16S rRNA sequences give accurate measures of taxonomic diversity. In addition, our analyses suggest that most of the 16S rRNA sequences of the high taxa will be discovered in environmental surveys by the end of the current decade.