Dead wood represents an important pool of organic matter in forests and is one of the sources of soil formation. It has been shown to harbour diverse communities of bacteria, but their roles in this habitat are still poorly understood. Here, we describe the bacterial communities in the dead wood of Abies alba, Picea abies and Fagus sylvatica in a temperate natural forest in Central Europe. An analysis of environmental factors showed that decomposing time along with pH and water content were the strongest drivers of community composition. Bacterial biomass positively correlated with N content and increased with decomposition along with the concurrent decrease in the fungal/bacterial biomass ratio. Rhizobiales and Acidobacteriales were abundant bacterial orders throughout the whole decay process, but many bacterial taxa were specific either for young ( < 15 years) or old dead wood. During early decomposition, bacterial genera able to fix N2 and to use simple C1 compounds (e.g. Yersinia and Methylomonas) were frequent, while wood in advanced decay was rich in taxa typical of forest soils (e.g. Bradyrhizobium and Rhodoplanes). Although the bacterial contribution to dead wood turnover remains unclear, the community composition appears to reflect the changing conditions of the substrate and suggests broad metabolic capacities of its members.