Among patients with end-stage renal disease who are treated with hemodialysis, solute clearance during dialysis and nutritional adequacy are determinants of mortality. We determined the effects of reductions in blood urea nitrogen concentrations during dialysis and changes in serum albumin concentrations, as an indicator of nutritional status, on mortality in a large group of patients treated with hemodialysis. We analyzed retrospectively the demographic characteristics, mortality rate, duration of hemodialysis, serum albumin concentration, and urea reduction ratio (defined as the percent reduction in blood urea nitrogen concentration during a single dialysis treatment) in 13,473 patients treated from October 1, 1990, through March 31, 1991. The risk of death was determined as a function of the urea reduction ratio and serum albumin concentration. As compared with patients with urea reduction ratios of 65 to 69 percent, patients with values below 60 percent had a higher risk of death during follow-up (odds ratio, 1.28 for urea reduction ratios of 55 to 59 percent and 1.39 for ratios below 55 percent). Fifty-five percent of the patients had urea reduction ratios below 60 percent. The duration of dialysis was not predictive of mortality. The serum albumin concentration was a more powerful (21 times greater) predictor of death than the urea reduction ratio, and 60 percent of the patients had serum albumin concentrations predictive of an increased risk of death (values below 4.0 g per deciliter). The odds ratio for death was 1.48 for serum albumin concentrations of 3.5 to 3.9 g per deciliter and 3.13 for concentrations of 3.0 to 3.4 g per deciliter. Diabetic patients had lower serum albumin concentrations and urea reduction ratios than nondiabetic patients. Low urea reduction ratios during dialysis are associated with increased odds ratios for death. These risks are worsened by inadequate nutrition.