Oscillating diurnal rhythms of gene transcription, metabolic activity, and behavior are found in all three domains of life. However, diel cycles in naturally occurring heterotrophic bacteria and archaea have rarely been observed. Here, we report time-resolved whole-genome transcriptome profiles of multiple, naturally occurring oceanic bacterial populations sampled in situ over 3 days. As anticipated, the cyanobacterial transcriptome exhibited pronounced diel periodicity. Unexpectedly, several different heterotrophic bacterioplankton groups also displayed diel cycling in many of their gene transcripts. Furthermore, diel oscillations in different heterotrophic bacterial groups suggested population-specific timing of peak transcript expression in a variety of metabolic gene suites. These staggered multispecies waves of diel gene transcription may influence both the tempo and the mode of matter and energy transformation in the sea.