The anaerobic microbial oxidation of toluene to CO2 coupled to humus respiration was demonstrated by use of enriched anaerobic sediments from the Amsterdam petroleum harbor (APH) and the Rhine River. Both highly purified soil humic acids (HPSHA) and the humic quinone moiety model compound anthraquinone-2,6-disulfonate (AQDS) were utilized as terminal electron acceptors. After 2 weeks of incubation, 50 and 85 percent added uniformly labeled [13C]toluene were recovered as 13CO2 in HPSHA- and AQDS-supplemented APH sediment enrichment cultures, respectively; negligible recovery occurred in unsupplemented cultures. The conversion of [13C]toluene agreed with the high level of recovery of electrons as reduced humus or as anthrahydroquinone-2,6-disulfonate. APH sediment was also able to use nitrate and amorphous manganese dioxide as terminal electron acceptors to support the anaerobic biodegradation of toluene. The addition of substoichiometric amounts of humic acids to bioassay reaction mixtures containing amorphous ferric oxyhydroxide as a terminal electron acceptor led to more than 65 percent conversion of toluene (1 mM) after 11 weeks of incubation, a result which paralleled the partial recovery of electron equivalents as acid-extractable Fe(II). Negligible conversion of toluene and reduction of Fe(III) occurred in these bioassay reaction mixtures when humic acids were omitted. The present study provides clear quantitative evidence for the mineralization of an aromatic hydrocarbon by humus-respiring microorganisms. The results indicate that humic substances may significantly contribute to the intrinsic bioremediation of anaerobic sites contaminated with priority pollutants by serving as terminal electron acceptors.