The aim of this review is to interpret recent studies in which molecular methods were used to identify and characterize prokaryotes in lake sediments and related habitats. In the first part studies based on the phylogenetic diversity of prokaryotes found in lacustrine habitats are summarized. The application of various cultivation-independent methods for the characterization of distinct groups of sediment bacteria is exemplified with morphologically conspicuous, colorless sulfur bacteria in the second part of this review. Finally, traditional and recently developed methods are described which could be used for linking the function of microbial populations with their identification. The potential of these approaches for the study of lake sediments is discussed in order to give a perspective for future studies in this habitat.