The elemental and isotopic composition of particulate and dissolved organic matter was investigated in the Piracicaba River basin, São Paulo State, Brazil. Comparison of riverine organic matter from the Piracicaba River basin, a region where rivers and streams receive urban sewage and industrial effluents, with data reported for the pristine Amazon system revealed significant differences associated with anthropogenic impacts. One important difference was N enrichment in the particulate organic material of the Piracicaba basin rivers, due to (a) urban and industrial effluents, and (b) enhanced phytoplankton growth, which results from the combination of nutrient enrichment and damming of sections of the rivers. Radiocarbon concentrations were overall more depleted (older 14C age) in the Piracicaba basin rivers than in the Amazon, which may reflect the importance of soil erosion in the former. Analyses of stable and radioactive carbon isotopes and lignin-derived compounds indicated that coarse particulate organic material is composed of a mixture of soil particles and degraded organic matter from C3 and C4 vascular plants. Fine particulate organic material was composed mainly of soil particles and phytoplankton cell remains, the latter especially during low water. Ultrafiltered dissolved organic matter was the most degraded fraction according to its lignin oxidation products, and showed the greatest influence of C4 plant sources.