Urban rivers often function as sinks for various contaminants potentially placing the benthic communities at risk of exposure. We performed a comprehensive biological survey of the benthic macroinvertebrate and bacterial community compositions in six rivers from the suburb to the central urban area of Guangzhou city (South China), and evaluated their correlations with emerging organic contaminants, heavy metals and nutrients. Overall, the benthic macroinvertebrate community shifted from molluscs to oligochaete from the suburban to the central urban rivers that receive treated and untreated sewage. An exception was the site in the Sha River where chironomids were most abundant. The differences in macroinvertebrate community assemblages were significantly associated with chromium, total phosphorus, galaxolide, triclosan and sand content in the sediment. There was no significant difference in benthic macroinvertebrate composition between the dry and wet season. As assessed by double constrained ordination, sexual reproduction was the only trait of benthic macroinvertebrates that showed a significant correlation with pollution variables, as it was significantly positively correlated with chromium and total phosphorus. This suggests that r-strategist occurs in polluted sampling sites. The benthic bacterial community composition showed a significant difference between seasons and among the Liuxi River, Zhujiang River and central urban rivers. The differences in community composition of the benthic bacteria were significantly correlated with galaxolide, total phosphorus, lead and triclosan. These results suggest that input of treated and untreated sewage significantly altered the benthic macroinvertebrate and bacterial community compositions in urban rivers.