© 2017, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany. Antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) in urban rivers are a serious public health concern in regions with poorly planned, rapid development. To gain insights into the predominant factors affecting the fate of ARGs in a highly polluted urban river in eastern China, a total of 285 ARGs, microbial communities, and 20 physicochemical parameters were analyzed for 17 sites. A total of 258 unique ARGs were detected using high-throughput qPCR, and the absolute abundance of total ARGs was positively correlated with total organic carbon and total dissolved nitrogen concentrations (P < 0.01). ARG abundance and diversity were greatly altered by microbial community structure. Variation partitioning analysis showed that the combined effects of multiple factors contributed to the profile and dissemination of ARGs, and variation of microbial communities was the major factor affecting the distribution of ARGs. The disparate distribution of some bacteria, including Bacteroides from mammalian gastrointestinal flora, Burkholderia from zoonotic infectious diseases, and Zoogloea from wastewater treatment, indicates that the urban river was strongly influenced by point-source pollution. Results imply that microbial community shifts caused by changes in water quality may lead to the spread of ARGs, and point-source pollution in urban rivers requires greater attention to control the transfer of ARGs between environmental bacteria and pathogens.