The deep biosphere is the largest 'bioreactor' on earth, and microbes inhabiting this biome profoundly influence global nutrient and energy cycles. An important question for deep biosphere microbiology is whether or not specific populations are viable. To address this, we used quantitative PCR and high throughput 16S rRNA gene sequencing of total and viable cells (i.e. with an intact cellular membrane) from three groundwaters with different ages and chemical constituents. There were no statistically significant differences in 16S rRNA gene abundances and microbial diversity between total and viable communities. This suggests that populations were adapted to prevailing oligotrophic conditions and that non-viable cells are rapidly degraded and recycled into new biomass. With higher concentrations of organic carbon, the modern marine and undefined mixed waters hosted a community with a larger range of predicted growth strategies than the ultra-oligotrophic old saline water. These strategies included fermentative and potentially symbiotic lifestyles by candidate phyla that typically have streamlined genomes. In contrast, the old saline waters had more 16S rRNA gene sequences in previously cultured lineages able to oxidize hydrogen and fix carbon dioxide. This matches the paradigm of a hydrogen and carbon dioxide-fed chemolithoautotrophic deep biosphere.