This study investigates the benthic microbial responses to organic matter (OM) variations in quantity and sources in two shallow water bays (Fortaleza and Ubatuba Bays) on the SE coast of Brazil on six occasions during the year. The pelagic and benthic compartments of the bays were evaluated by: (i) nutrients and chlorophyll a (Chl a) in the water column; (ii) quantity and sources of OM in the sediment (Chl a, total organic carbon and total nitrogen and lipid biomarker composition); and (iii) microbial biomass in sediments as an indicator of active benthic response. Although there were changes in water-column nutrients during the year, Chl a was fairly constant, suggesting a regular supply of microalgae-derived OM to the sea bottom. Based on the composition of lipid biomarkers in sediments, OM sources were classified as mostly marine and with high contributions of labile (microalgae-derived) OM. Labile OM composition varied from diatoms in the summer to phytoflagellates in the winter and tended to accumulate in areas protected by physical disturbances in one of the bays. Microbial biomass followed this trend and was 160% higher in protected than in exposed areas. This study suggests that the coupling between labile OM and benthic microbial biomass occurs primarily in protected areas, irrespective of the time of the year. Since meio- and macrofaunal assemblages depend upon secondary microbial production within the sediments, this coupling may have an important role for the benthic food-web.