Terrestrial ecosystems are receiving elevated inputs of nitrogen (N) from anthropogenic sources and understanding how these increases in N availability affect soil microbial communities is critical for predicting the associated effects on belowground ecosystems. We used a suite of approaches to analyze the structure and functional characteristics of soil microbial communities from replicated plots in two long-term N fertilization experiments located in contrasting systems. Pyrosequencing-based analyses of 16S rRNA genes revealed no significant effects of N fertilization on bacterial diversity, but significant effects on community composition at both sites; copiotrophic taxa (including members of the Proteobacteria and Bacteroidetes phyla) typically increased in relative abundance in the high N plots, with oligotrophic taxa (mainly Acidobacteria) exhibiting the opposite pattern. Consistent with the phylogenetic shifts under N fertilization, shotgun metagenomic sequencing revealed increases in the relative abundances of genes associated with DNA/RNA replication, electron transport and protein metabolism, increases that could be resolved even with the shallow shotgun metagenomic sequencing conducted here (average of 75 000 reads per sample). We also observed shifts in the catabolic capabilities of the communities across the N gradients that were significantly correlated with the phylogenetic and metagenomic responses, indicating possible linkages between the structure and functioning of soil microbial communities. Overall, our results suggest that N fertilization may, directly or indirectly, induce a shift in the predominant microbial life-history strategies, favoring a more active, copiotrophic microbial community, a pattern that parallels the often observed replacement of K-selected with r-selected plant species with elevated N.