1. River metabolism was measured over an annual cycle at three sites distributed along a 1000 km length of the lowland Murray River, Australia.2. Whole system metabolism was measured using water column changes in dissolved oxygen concentrations while planktonic and benthic metabolism were partitioned using light-dark bottles and benthic chambers.3. Annual gross primary production (GPP) ranged from 775 to 1126 g O2 m−2 year−1 which in comparison with rivers of similar physical characteristics is moderately productive.4. Community respiration (CR) ranged from 872 to 1284 g O2 m−2 year−1 so that annual net ecosystem production (NEP) was near zero, suggesting photosynthesis and respiration were balanced and that allochthonous organic carbon played a minor role in fuelling metabolism.5. Planktonic rates of gross photosynthesis and respiration were similar to those of the total channel, indicating that plankton were responsible for much of the observed metabolism.6. Respiration rates correlated with phytoplankton standing crop (estimated as the sum of GPP plus the chlorophyll concentration in carbon units), yielding a specific respiration rate of −1.1 g O2 g C−1 day−1. The respiration rate was equivalent to 19% of the maximum rate of phytoplankton photosynthesis, which is typical of diatoms.7. The daily GPP per unit phytoplankton biomass correlated with the mean irradiance of the water column giving a constant carbon specific photon fixation rate of 0.35 gO2 g Chl a−1 day−1 per μmole photons m−2 s−1 (ca. 0.08 per mole photons m−2 on a carbon basis) indicating that light availability determined daily primary production.8. Annual phytoplankton net production (NP) estimates at two sites indicated 25 and 36 g C m−2 year−1 were available to support riverine food webs, equivalent to 6% and 11% of annual GPP.9. Metabolised organic carbon was predominantly derived from phytoplankton and was fully utilised, suggesting that food-web production was restricted by the energy supply.