The objective of this study was to determine the outcome of acute renal failure (ARF) treated by continuous venovenous high-flux dialysis in patients with ventilator-dependent respiratory failure treated in a single center and to examine the importance of primary diagnosis in determining survival. We retrospectively reviewed 408 consecutively treated patients in the multidisciplinary intensive care unit (ICU) of a large teaching hospital. All ventilated patients requiring dialysis support over a 5-year period (January 1, 1991 to December 31, 1995) were included in the study. Patient age, APACHE II score, primary diagnosis, inotrope requirement, and survival to discharge from the ICU, from the hospital, and at 6 months were recorded for 408 consecutively treated patients. The mean age was 54 years, the median APACHE II score was 29, and the ICUs, hospital, and 6-month survival rates were 48%, 38%, and 36%, respectively. Inotropic support was required in 75%. Liver disease was the primary diagnosis in 35%. Logistic regression analysis indicated that increasing age and APACHE II, use of inotropes, and presence of liver disease were all associated with increased mortality. Eight percent of survivors (3% of the total population) required long-term renal replacement therapy. In conclusion, in our experience, continuous venovenous high-flux dialysis can be universally adopted in the ICU management of ARF associated with multiorgan failure. Patient survival is related to primary diagnosis, and a knowledge of case mix is essential in considering outcome of ARF in any reported series.