We compared the function and composition of free-living and particle-associated microbial communities at an inshore site in coastal North Carolina and across a depth profile on the Blake Ridge (offshore). Hydrolysis rates of six different polysaccharide substrates were compared for particle-associated (>3 μm) and free-living (<3 to 0.2 μm) microbial communities. The 16S rRNA- and rDNA-based clone libraries were produced from the same filters used to measure hydrolysis rates. Particle-associated and free-living communities resembled one another; they also showed similar enzymatic hydrolysis rates and substrate preferences. All six polysaccharides were hydrolyzed inshore. Offshore, only a subset was hydrolyzed in surface water and at depths of 146 and 505 m; just three polysaccharides were hydrolyzed at 505 m. The spectrum of bacterial taxa changed more subtly between inshore and offshore surface waters, but changed greatly with depth offshore. None of the OTUs occurred at all sites: 27 out of the 28 major OTUs defined in this study were found either exclusively in a surface or in a mid-depth/bottom water sample. This distinction was evident with both 16S rRNA and rDNA analyses. At the offshore site, despite the low community overlap, bacterial communities maintained a degree of functional redundancy on the whole bacterial community level with respect to hydrolysis of high-molecular-weight substrates.