During in vitro replication of UV-irradiated single-stranded DNA with Escherichia coli DNA polymerase III holoenzyme termination frequently occurs at pyrimidine photodimers. The termination stage is dynamic and characterized by at least three different events: repeated dissociation-reinitiation cycles of the polymerase at the blocked termini; extensive hydrolysis of ATP to ADP and inorganic phosphate; turnover of dNTPs into dNMP. The reinitiation events are nonproductive and are not followed by further elongation. The turnover of dNTPs into dNMPs is likely to result from repeated cycles of insertion of dNMP residues opposite the blocking lesions followed by their excision by the 3'----5' exonucleolytic activity of the polymerase. Although all dNTPs are turned over, there is a preference for dATP, indicating that DNA polymerase III holoenzyme has a preference for inserting a dAMP residue opposite blocking pyrimidine photodimers. We suggest that the inability of the polymerase to bypass photodimers during termination is due to the formation of defective initiation-like complexes with reduced stability at the blocked termini.