Microbial biofilms assemble from cells that attach to a surface, where they develop into matrix-enclosed communities. Mechanistic insights into community assembly are crucial to better understand the functioning of natural biofilms, which drive key ecosystem processes in numerous aquatic habitats. We studied the role of the suspended microbial community as the source of the biofilm community in three streams using terminal-restriction fragment length polymorphism and 454 pyrosequencing of the 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) and the 16S rRNA gene (as a measure for the active and the bulk community, respectively). Diversity was consistently lower in the biofilm communities than in the suspended stream water communities. We propose that the higher diversity in the suspended communities is supported by continuous inflow from various sources within the catchment. Community composition clearly differed between biofilms and suspended communities, whereas biofilm communities were similar in all three streams. This suggests that biofilm assembly did not simply reflect differences in the source communities, but that certain microbial groups from the source community proliferate in the biofilm. We compared the biofilm communities with random samples of the respective community suspended in the stream water. This analysis confirmed that stochastic dispersal from the source community was unlikely to shape the observed community composition of the biofilms, in support of species sorting as a major biofilm assembly mechanism. Bulk and active populations generated comparable patterns of community composition in the biofilms and the suspended communities, which suggests similar assembly controls on these populations.