When leaves fall in rivers, microbial decomposition commences within hours. Microbial assemblages comprising hundreds of species of fungi and bacteria can vary with stream conditions, leaf litter species, and decomposition stage. In terrestrial ecosystems, fungi and bacteria that enter soils with dead leaves often play prominent roles in decomposition, but their role in aquatic decomposition is less known. Here, we test whether fungi and bacteria that enter streams on senesced leaves are growing during decomposition and compare their abundances and growth to bacteria and fungi that colonize leaves in the water. We employ quantitative stable isotope probing to identify growing microbes across four leaf litter species and two decomposition times. We find that most of the growing fungal species on decomposing leaves enter the water with the leaf, whereas most growing bacteria colonize from the water column. Results indicate that the majority of bacteria found on litter are growing, whereas the majority of fungi are dormant. Both bacterial and fungal assemblages differed with leaf type on the dried leaves and throughout decomposition. This research demonstrates the importance of fungal species that enter with the leaf on aquatic decomposition and the prominence of bacteria that colonize decomposing leaves in the water.