Acute kidney injury (AKI) after cardiac surgery is a common and serious complication. Although lower than normal serum bicarbonate levels are known to be associated with consecutive renal function deterioration in patients with chronic kidney injury, it is not well-known whether preoperative low serum bicarbonate levels are associated with the development of AKI in patients who undergo cardiac surgery. Therefore, the clinical implication of preoperative serum bicarbonate levels on AKI occurrence after cardiac surgery was investigated. Patients who underwent coronary artery bypass or valve surgery at Yonsei University Health System from January 2013 to December 2014 were enrolled. The patients were divided into 3 groups based on preoperative serum bicarbonate levels, which represented group 1 (below normal levels) <23 mEq/L; group 2 (normal levels) 23 to 24 mEq/L; and group 3 (elevated levels) >24 mEq/L. The primary outcome was the predicated incidence of AKI 48 hours after cardiac surgery. AKI was defined according to Acute Kidney Injury Network criteria. Among 875 patients, 228 (26.1%) developed AKI within 48 hours after cardiac surgery. The incidence of AKI was higher in group 1 (40.9%) than in group 2 (26.5%) and group 3 (19.5%) (P < 0.001). In addition, the duration of postoperative stay in a hospital intensive care unit (ICU) was longer for AKI patients and for those in the low-preoperative-serum-bicarbonate-level groups. A multivariate logistic regression analysis showed that low preoperative serum bicarbonate levels were significantly associated with AKI even after adjustment for age, sex, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, operation type, preoperative hemoglobin, and estimated glomerular filtration rate. In conclusion, low serum bicarbonate levels were associated with higher incidence of AKI and prolonged ICU stay. Further studies are needed to clarify whether strict correction of bicarbonate levels close to normal limits may have a protective role in preventing further AKI development.