Event-related potentials were recorded from 1221 sites in the medial, lateral and posterior aspects of the temporal lobe in 39 patients. Depth electrodes were implanted for about 4 days in order to localize seizure origin prior to surgical treatment. Subjects received an auditory discrimination task with target and non-target rare stimuli. In some cases, the target, distracting and frequent tones were completely balanced across blocks for pitch and volume. Some subjects also received an analogous visual discrimination task, or auditory tasks in which the rare target event was the omission of a tone, or the repetition of a tone within a series of alternating tones. In some subjects, the same auditory stimuli were delivered but the patient ignored them while reading. A complex field was recorded, indicating multiple components with overlapping time-courses, task correlates and generators. Two general patterns could be distinguished on the basis of their waveforms, latencies and task correlates. In the temporal pole and some middle temporal, posterior parahippocampal and fusiform gyrus sites, a sharp triphasic negative-positive-negative waveform with peaks at about 220-320-420 msec was usually observed. This wave was of relatively small amplitude and diffuse, and seldom inverted in polarity. It was multimodal but most prominent to auditory stimuli, appeared to remain when the stimuli were ignored, and was not apparent to repeated words and faces. A second broad, often monophasic, waveform peaking at about 380 msec was generated in the hippocampus, a limited region of the superior temporal sulcus, and (by inference) in the anterobasal temporal lobe (possible rhinal cortex). This waveform was of large amplitude, often highly focal, and could invert over short distances. It was equal to visual and auditory stimuli, was greatly diminished when the stimuli were ignored, and was also evoked by repeating words and faces. Preceding this waveform was a non-modality-specific negativity, possibly generated in rhinal cortex, and a visual-specific negativity in inferotemporal cortex. The early triphasic pattern may embody a diffuse non-specific orienting response that is also reflected in the scalp P3a. The late monophasic pattern may embody the cognitive closure that is also reflected in the scalp P3b or late positive component.