We have defined a DNA sequence that behaves as an RNA polymerase II termination signal by using the human HeLa cell transient expression system. Surprisingly, this sequence is tripartite, including part of the coding region of the sea urchin H2A histone gene together with two separate sequences in the 3' flanking region of the gene. We demonstrate that this signal functions both in its normal gene environment and also when placed within the human alpha-globin gene. However, we have failed to detect a discrete 3' terminus. Rather, our data indicate the presence of an extremely heterogeneous series of nonpolyadenylated RNAs. These heterogeneous nonpolyadenylated RNAs are stable when transcribed from the intact histone gene but are highly unstable within the human alpha-globin gene. This provides evidence for the role of poly(A) in the stability of mRNA.