Microbes play crucial roles in various biogeochemical processes in the ocean, including carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) cycling. Functional gene diversity and the structure of the microbial community determines its metabolic potential and therefore its ecological function in the marine ecosystem. However, little is known about the functional gene composition and metabolic potential of bacterioplankton in estuary areas. The East China Sea (ECS) is a dynamic marginal ecosystem in the western Pacific Ocean that is mainly affected by input from the Changjiang River and the Kuroshio Current. Here, using a high-throughput functional gene microarray (GeoChip), we analyzed the functional gene diversity, composition, structure, and metabolic potential of microbial assemblages in different ECS water masses. Four water masses determined by temperature and salinity relationship showed different patterns of functional gene diversity and composition. Generally, functional gene diversity [Shannon-Weaner's H and reciprocal of Simpson's 1/(1-D)] in the surface water masses was higher than that in the bottom water masses. The different presence and proportion of functional genes involved in C, N, and P cycling among the bacteria of the different water masses showed different metabolic preferences of the microbial populations in the ECS. Genes involved in starch metabolism (amyA and nplT) showed higher proportion in microbial communities of the surface water masses than of the bottom water masses. In contrast, a higher proportion of genes involved in chitin degradation was observed in microorganisms of the bottom water masses. Moreover, we found a higher proportion of nitrogen fixation (nifH), transformation of hydroxylamine to nitrite (hao) and ammonification (gdh) genes in the microbial communities of the bottom water masses compared with those of the surface water masses. The spatial variation of microbial functional genes was significantly correlated with salinity, temperature, and chlorophyll based on canonical correspondence analysis, suggesting a significant influence of hydrologic conditions on water microbial communities. Our data provide new insights into better understanding of the functional potential of microbial communities in the complex estuarine-coastal environmental gradient of the ECS.