Sulfonates are a key component of the sulfur present in agricultural soils. Their mobilization as part of the soil sulfur cycle is mediated by rhizobacteria, and involves the oxidoreductase AsfA. In this study, the effect of fertilization regime on rhizosphere bacterial asfA distribution was examined at the Broadbalk long-term wheat experiment, Rothamsted, UK, which was established in 1843, and has included a sulfur-free treatment since 2001. Direct isolation of desulfonating rhizobacteria from the wheat rhizospheres led to the identification of several Variovorax and Polaromonas strains, all of which contained the asfA gene. Rhizosphere DNA was isolated from wheat rhizospheres in plots fertilized with inorganic fertilizer with and without sulfur, with farmyard manure or from unfertilized plots. Genetic profiling of 16S rRNA gene fragments [denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE)] from the wheat rhizospheres revealed that the level of inorganic sulfate in the inorganic fertilizer was correlated with changes in the general bacterial community structure and the betaproteobacterial community structure in particular. Community analysis at the functional gene level (asfA) showed that 40% of clones in asfAB clone libraries were affiliated to the genus Variovorax. Analysis of asfAB-based terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) fingerprints showed considerable differences between sulfate-free treatments and those where sulfate was applied. The results suggest the occurrence of desulfonating bacterial communities that are specific to the fertilization regime chosen and that arylsulfonates play an important role in rhizobacterial sulfur nutrition.