The effects of water deficit and re-irrigation were studied in glasshouse-grown rice plants (cvs. Cimarrón and Fonaiap 2000) which differ in their susceptibility to water deficit. Relative water content decreased from >90 to 67–69 % and recovered to pre-stress values within 24 h after re-irrigation. The irradiance-saturated rate of photosynthesis (Psat), transpiration rate (E), and stomatal conductance (gs) decreased with water deficit. E and gs decreased similarly in both cultivars, but Psat was more strongly inhibited in Cimarrón than in Fonaiap 2000. Water deficit increased water use efficiency (WUET) over 2-fold in Fonaiap 2000 and by 1.5-fold in Cimarrón. The ratio of intercellular to ambient CO2 concentration (Ci/Ca) decreased in Fonaiap 2000 during mild stress but increased at severe stress. Contrarily, Cimarrón did not change Ci/Ca with water deficit. After re-irrigation Fonaiap 2000 recovered Psat to ca. 80 % of control values 24 h after re-irrigation, whereas Cimarrón recovered to 60 % of control values 48 h after re-irrigation. E and gs recovered to a lesser extent (50 %) than Psat, after 48 h of re-irrigation in both cultivars. Total aboveground and green (live) biomass were unaffected by water deficit in Fonaiap 2000 but were reduced by 21 and 40 % in Cimarrón, respectively. Dead biomass increased in stressed plants of both cultivars but to a larger extent in Cimarrón than in Fonaiap 2000. Water deficit increased δ13C in Fonaiap 2000, whereas Cimarrón was unaffected by water deficit showing lower values than those of Fonaiap 2000. δ13C was highly and linearly correlated to the ratio Ci/Ca. WUET was also significantly correlated to δ13C.