Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC), a major cause of infectious diarrhea, produce heat-stable and/or heat-labile enterotoxins and at least 25 different colonization factors that target the intestinal mucosa. The genes encoding the enterotoxins and most of the colonization factors are located on plasmids found across diverse E. coli serogroups. Whole-genome sequencing of a representative collection of ETEC isolated between 1980 and 2011 identified globally distributed lineages characterized by distinct colonization factor and enterotoxin profiles. Contrary to current notions, these relatively recently emerged lineages might harbor chromosome and plasmid combinations that optimize fitness and transmissibility. These data have implications for understanding, tracking and possibly preventing ETEC disease.