An unselected consecutive series of 826 patients admitted for acute upper gastrointestinal bleeding underwent urgent endoscopy. Peptic ulcers were found in 402 (49%). Of the 329 ulcer craters that could be fully examined, visible vessels were identified in 156 (47%), other stigmata of recent hemorrhage in 66, and no stigmata of recent hemorrhage in 107. One hundred twenty-nine patients with stigmata of recent hemorrhage (93 of whom had visible vessels) randomly allocated to no endoscopic treatment were observed for evidence of further bleeding. Fifty-four of the 93 patients (58%) with visible vessels rebled, compared with 2 of 36 (6%) with other stigmata of recent hemorrhage. No patient without stigmata of recent hemorrhage rebled. Twenty-seven patients in whom a visible vessel in a gastric ulcer was identified at endoscopy underwent urgent partial gastrectomy because of recurrent bleeding. The vessel identified at endoscopy was found in 26 of 27 resection specimens (96%). The arterial vessel wall protruded above the surface of the ulcer crater in 10 specimens, and clot in continuity with a breach in the vessel wall protruded in a further 10 specimens. Postoperative angiography, when technically possible, showed that the breached artery ran across the base of the ulcer in all of these specimens. Pathological changes were common in the bleeding artery and included arteritis in 24 of 29 (83%) eroded arteries found in these specimens, with aneurysmal dilatation in 14 of 27 (52%) bleeding points that could be fully examined. The ulcer had penetrated to serosa in 13 specimens (45%). The bleeding artery had a mean external diameter of 0.7 mm with a range of 0.1-1.8 mm. This study provides new information about the nature of the bleeding vessel in gastric ulcers, and some of this information is relevant in planning studies of endoscopic therapy for bleeding peptic ulcers. It validates the endoscopic identification of a visible vessel, and confirms that such identification has a high predictive value for the development of recurrent hemorrhage.