High-dose chemotherapy followed by autologous bone marrow transplantation is a therapeutic option for patients with chemotherapy-sensitive non-Hodgkin's lymphoma who have relapses. In this report we describe a prospective randomized study of such treatment. A total of 215 patients with relapses of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma were treated between July 1987 and June 1994. All patients received two courses of conventional chemotherapy. The 109 patients who had a response to chemotherapy were randomly assigned to receive four courses of chemotherapy plus radiotherapy (54 patients) or radiotherapy plus intensive chemotherapy and autologous bone marrow transplantation (55 patients). The overall rate of response to conventional chemotherapy was 58 percent; among patients with relapses after chemotherapy, the response rate was 64 percent, and among those with relapses during chemotherapy, the response rate was 21 percent. There were three deaths from toxic effects among the patients in the transplantation group, and none among those in the group receiving chemotherapy without transplantation. The two groups did not differ in terms of prognostic factors. The median follow-up time was 63 months. The response rate was 84 percent after bone marrow transplantation and 44 percent after chemotherapy without transplantation. At five years, the rate of event-free survival was 46 percent in the transplantation group and 12 percent in the group receiving chemotherapy without transplantation (P = 0.001), and the rate of overall survival was 53 and 32 percent, respectively (P = 0.038). As compared with conventional chemotherapy, treatment with high-dose chemotherapy and autologous bone marrow transplantation increases event-free and overall survival in patients with chemotherapy-sensitive non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in relapse.