Abstract This study seeks to improve our understanding of the conceptual model of pollutant transport and fate in cases of DNAPL contamination at sites with a complex contamination history. The study was carried out in an unconfined aquifer of alluvial fans in the Tarragona Petrochemical Complex (Spain). Two boreholes were drilled and continuous cores were recovered in order to carry out a detailed core description at centimeter scale and a comprehensive sampling of borehole cores. The biogeochemical heterogeneity at these sites is controlled by the conjunction of lithological, hydrochemical and microbiological heterogeneities. Biodegradation processes of contaminant compounds take place not only at the level of the dissolved fraction in the aquifer but also at the level of the fraction retained in the fine, less conductive materials as shown by the biodegradation haloes of parent and metabolite compounds. Sampling the low-conductivity levels also allowed us to identify compounds, e.g. BTEX, that are the remaining traces of the passage of old contaminant plumes whose sources no longer exist. This enabled us to describe past biogeochemical processes and to partially account for the processes occurring today. Transition zones, characterized by numerous textural changes, constitute ecotones whose biostimulation could be effective in promoting the acceleration of the remediation of the multiple pollution at these sites.