We investigated bacteraemia trends for five major bacterial pathogens, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Enterococcus faecalis and Enterococcus faecium, and determined how expanding antimicrobial resistance influenced the total burden of bacteraemias in Europe. Aetiological fractions of species and antibiotic phenotypes were extracted from the European Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System (EARSS) database for laboratories, which consistently reported between 2002 and 2008. Trend analyses used generalized linear models. Robustness of results was assessed by iterative analysis for different geographic regions. From 2002 to 2008, the overall number of reports increased annually by 6.4% (95% confidence interval (CI) 6.2–6.5%), from 46 095 to 67 876. In the subset of laboratories providing denominator information, the overall incidence increased from 0.58/1000 patient-days to 0.90/1000 patient-days (7.2% per year; 95% CI 6.9–7.5%). The frequency of reported bacteraemia isolates of S. aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae increased moderately, while increase in E. coli and Enterococcus faecium was more pronounced. Bacteraemias caused by methicillin-resistant S. aureus increased until 2005 (7.6% per year; 95% CI 6.1–9.1%), and then decreased (−4.8% per year; 95% CI −6.1 to −3.5%), whereas the number attributable to methicillin-sensitive S. aureus increased continuously (3.4% per year; 95% CI 3.0–3.7). Increasing rates of E. coli were mainly caused by antibiotic-resistant phenotypes. Our data suggest that the burden of bacterial bloodstream infection has been increasing for all species during EARSS surveillance. Trends were mainly driven by resistant strains and clearly dissociated between resistant and susceptible isolates. It appears that infections with resistant clones add to rather than replace infections caused by susceptible bacteria. As a consequence, expansion of antibiotic resistance creates an additional strain on healthcare systems.