Dissimilatory sulfate reduction is carried out by a heterogeneous group of bacteria and archaea that occur in environments with temperatures up to 105 degrees C. As a group together they have the capacity to metabolize a wide variety of compounds ranging from hydrogen via typical organic fermentation products to hexadecane, toluene, and several types of substituted aromatics. Without exception all sulfate reducers activate sulfate to APS; the natural electron donor(s) for the ensuing APS reductase reaction is not known. The same is true for the reduction of the product bisulfite; in addition there is still some uncertainty as to whether the pathway to sulfide is a direct six-electron reduction of bisulfite or whether it involves trithionate and thiosulfate as intermediates. The study of the degradation pathways of organic substrates by sulfate-reducing prokaryotes has led to the discovery of novel non-cyclic pathways for the oxidation of the acetyl moiety of acetyl-CoA to CO2. The most detailed knowledge is available on the metabolism of Desulfovibrio strains, both on the pathways and enzymes involved in substrate degradation and on electron transfer components and terminal reductases. Problems encountered in elucidating the flow of reducing equivalents and energy transduction are the cytoplasmic localization of the terminal reductases and uncertainties about the electron donors for the reactions catalyzed by these enzymes. New developments in the study of the metabolism of sulfate-reducing bacteria and archaea are reviewed.