The side effects of sulfonylurea and imidazolinone herbicides on plant-associated bacteria were investigated under pure culture conditions. Eighteen isolates, belonging to the genera Azotobacter, Azospirillum, Bacillus, Enterobacter Pseudomonas and Serratia, were exposed to four active compounds at concentration ranges similar to those in field soil. The sulfonylureas chlorsulfuron and rimsulfuron inhibited the growth of one of two Azospirillum and one of four Pseudomonas strains, while the imidazolinones imazapyr and imazethapyr were effective on two out of five Bacillus isolates. Surfactants in commercial formulation significantly enhanced rimsulfuron toxicity. With the exception of one Azospirillum strain, the differential tolerance of rhizobacteria to these herbicides was related to a differential sensitivity of their target, the activity of the first enzyme in branched-chain amino acid biosynthesis, acetohydroxyacid synthase (AHAS). Greenhouse pot studies were performed to assess the occurrence of inhibitory effects on bacterial growth in field conditions. Maize seedlings were bacterized with the two strains which had shown in vitro sensitivity to sulfonylureas. Following the application to the soil of a commercial formulation of rimsulfuron at rates of 0, 0.2 and 0.5 μmol a.i. kg−1, significative differences in the resulting degree of bacterial root colonization were found. Moreover, upon co-inoculation with two strains, one tolerant and one sensitive to the herbicide, the presence of rimsulfuron significantly enhanced root occupancy by resistant bacteria, suggesting that shifts in the microbial community structure of crop rhizosphere could indeed result as a consequence of weed control by AHAS inhibitors.