Although the differential responses of stream taxa to metal exposure have been exploited for bioassessment and monitoring, the mechanisms affecting these responses are not well understood. In this study, the subcellular partitioning of metals in operationally defined metal-sensitive and detoxified fractions were analyzed in five insect taxa. Samples were collected in two separate years along an extensive metal contamination gradient in the Clark Fork River (MT, USA) to determine if interspecific differences in the metal concentrations of metal-sensitive fractions and detoxified fractions were linked to the differences in distributions of taxa relative to the gradient. Most of the Cd, Cu, and Zn body burdens were internalized and potentially biologically active in all taxa, although all taxa appeared to detoxify metals (e.g., metal bound to cytosolic metal-binding proteins). Metal concentrations associated with metal-sensitive fractions were highest in the mayflies Epeorus albertae and Serratella tibialis, which were rare or absent from the most contaminated sites but occurred at less contaminated sites. Relatively low concentrations of Cu were common to the tolerant taxa Hydropsyche spp. and Baetis spp., which were widely distributed and dominant in the most contaminated sections of the river. This suggested that distributions of taxa along the contamination gradient were more closely related to the bioaccumulation of Cu than of other metals. Metal bioaccumulation did not appear to explain the spatial distribution of the caddisfly Arctopsyche grandis, considered to be a bioindicator of metal effects in the river. Thus, in this system the presence/absence of most of these taxa from sites where metal exposure was elevated could be differentiated on the basis of differences in metal bioaccumulation.