The etiology of ulcerative colitis (UC) is unknown, but evidence links it to bacteria belonging to the normal colonic microbiota. The aims of this study were to characterize bacteria colonizing the rectal epithelium, and to investigate whether significant differences existed in UC. Rectal biopsy specimens were obtained via endoscopy from 9 patients with active colitis and 10 patients without inflammatory bowel disease. Complex bacterial communities colonized the rectal mucosa in all subjects. Overall, 72 bacterial taxa (18 genera) were detected. Twenty species were common to both groups, but only differences in bifidobacteria were statistically significant (P = .005). Peptostreptococci were only detected in patients with UC. Microscopy showed that bacteria in mucosal biofilms often occurred in microcolonies. Interindividual variations in mucosal biofilms made it difficult to assign a role for specific bacteria in UC etiology. However, differences in bifidobacteria and peptostreptococci may implicate these organisms in this disease.