In 88 patients with the adult respiratory distress syndrome, clinical, laboratory, cardiopulmonary, and demographic data collected on the day of onset of the syndrome were used to identify predictors of survivorship and mortality. Variables that individually were associated with mortality were then analyzed simultaneously by the Cox proportional hazards function and by multiple discriminant function using a step-up procedure. Four variables taken singly were significantly associated with mortality. These were the presence of less than 10% band forms on the initial peripheral blood smear, persistent acidemia with arterial pH less than 7.40, calculated HCO-3 less than 20 mg/dl, and blood urea nitrogen greater than 65 mg/dl. After eliminating those variables that did not contribute significantly to mortality in the presence of the others, only low band forms, low pH, and low HCO-3 were significantly associated with increased mortality. These findings illustrate the continued high mortality rate in the syndrome and indicate possible systemic aberrations that contribute to its severity.