Genetic markers fromBacteroidesand other faecal bacteria are being tested for inclusion in regulations to quantify aquatic faecal contamination and estimate public health risk. For the method to be used quantitatively across environments, persistence and decay of markers must be understood. We measured concentrations of contaminant molecular markers targetingEnterococcusandBacteroidesspp. in marine and freshwater microcosms spiked with human sewage and exposed to either sunlight or dark treatments. We used Bayesian statistics with a delayed Chick–Watson model to estimate kinetic parameters for target decay. DNA- and RNA-based targets decayed at approximately the same rate. Molecular markers persisted (could be detected) longer in marine water. Sunlight increased the decay rates of cultured indicators more than those of molecular markers; sunlight also limited persistence of molecular markers. Within each treatment,Bacteroidesmarkers had similar decay profiles, but someBacteroidesmarkers significantly differed in decay rates. The role of extracellular DNA in persistence appeared unimportant in the microcosms. Because conditions were controlled, microcosms allowed the effects of specific environmental variables on marker persistence and decay to be measured. While marker decay profiles in more complex environments would be expected to vary from those observed here, the differences we measured suggest that water matrix is an important factor affecting quantitative source tracking and microbial risk assessment applications.