The stereochemical course of the ribosome-dependent GTPase reaction of elongation factor G from Escherichia coli has been determined. Guanosine 5'-(gamma-thio)triphosphate stereospecifically labeled with 17O and 18O in the gamma-position was hydrolyzed in the presence of the elongation factor and ribosomes. The configuration of the product, inorganic [16O, 17O, 18O]thiophosphate ws analyzed by 31P NMR after its stereospecific incorporation into adenosine 5'-(beta-thio)triphosphate. The analysis showed that the hydrolysis proceeds with inversion of configuration at the transferred phosphorus atom. It is therefore likely that the hydrolysis occurs in a single step by direct, in-line transfer of the phosphorus from GDP to a water oxygen, without a phosphoenzyme intermediate.