Cortically projecting basal forebrain neurons play a critical role in learning and attention, and their degeneration accompanies age-related impairments in cognition. Despite the impressive anatomical and cell-type complexity of this system, currently available data suggest that basal forebrain neurons lack complexity in their response fields, with activity primarily reflecting only macro-level brain states such as sleep and wake, onset of relevant stimuli and/or reward obtainment. The current study examined the spiking activity of basal forebrain neuron populations across multiple phases of a selective attention task, addressing, in particular, the issue of complexity in ensemble firing patterns across time. Clustering techniques applied to the full population revealed a large number of distinct categories of task-phase-specific activity patterns. Unique population firing-rate vectors defined each task phase and most categories of task-phase-specific firing had counterparts with opposing firing patterns. An analogous set of task-phase-specific firing patterns was also observed in a population of posterior parietal cortex neurons. Thus, consistent with the known anatomical complexity, basal forebrain population dynamics are capable of differentially modulating their cortical targets according to the unique sets of environmental stimuli, motor requirements, and cognitive processes associated with different task phases.