The extent of oxygen exchange between phosphate and water has been measured for the calcium-regulated magnesium-dependent ATPase activity of chemically skinned fibers from rabbit skeletal muscle. The oxygen exchange was determined for isometrically held fibers by measuring with a mass spectrometer the distribution of 18O atoms in the product inorganic phosphate when ATP hydrolysis was carried out in H2(18)O. The extent of exchange was much greater in relaxed muscle (free Ca2+ less than 10(-8) M) than in calcium-activated muscle (free Ca2+ approximately equal to 3 X 10(-5) M). Activated fibers had an ATPase activity at least 30-fold greater than the relaxed fibers. These results correlate well with the extents of oxygen exchange accompanying magnesium-dependent myosin and unregulated actomyosin ATPase activities, respectively. In relaxed fibers, comparison of the amount of exchange with the ATPase activity suggests that the rate constant for the reformation of myosin-bound ATP from the myosin products complex is about 10 s-1 at 20 degrees C and pH 7.1. In each experiment the distribution of 18O in the Pi formed was incompatible with a single pathway for ATP hydrolysis. In the case of the calcium-activated fibers, the multiple pathways for ATP hydrolysis appeared to be an intrinsic property of the actomyosin ATPase in the fiber. These results indicate that in muscle fibers, as in isolated actomyosin, cleavage of protein-bound ATP is readily reversible and that association of the myosin products complex with actin promotes Pi release.