Bacterial production is important in aquatic carbon cycles because it represents a key component whereby dissolved and particulate carbon can be recycled back into food webs. Despite its acknowledged importance, few studies have examined bacterial production in lowland rivers. Since studies have suggested bacterial production is closely related to some carbon pools, we anticipated this to be the case in the Murray River, but that the timing and type of carbon inputs in the Murray River may lead to bacterial dynamics that differ from studies from other sites. Bacterial abundance and production were measured at three contrasting sites of the lowland Murray River, south-eastern Australia, over an 18-month period. Bacterial abundance varied across the three sites on the Murray River and was correlated with chlorophyll a concentrations but not with temperature, nutrients, particulate organic carbon and dissolved organic carbon concentrations. Bacterial production also varied across the sites. Lowest production was at the site most immediately downstream of a large reservoir, with production generally ranging from 0.88 to 8.00 μg C L−1 h−1. Bacterial production in a reach within a large forest ranged from 4.00 to 17.38 μg C L−1 h−1. Production at the reach furthest downstream ranged from 1.04 to 23.50 μg C L−1 h−1. Bacterial production in the Murray River was generally greater than in the European River Spree, reaches of the Meuse and Rhine without immediate impacts from major urban centres and the Amazon River, but was similar to the concentration measured in the Mississippi and Hudson Rivers. Bacterial production was closely correlated with chlorophyll a concentration and total phosphorus, but not with temperature, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic carbon or inorganic nitrogen. Despite the differences in production and respiration measured at different sites across the Murray River, bacterial growth efficiency was very similar at the three sites. Bacterial populations in the Murray River appear to be influenced by reach-specific conditions rather than broad-scale drivers such as temperature, carbon and nutrient concentrations.