Metal-rich sediments have the potential to impair life in freshwater streams and rivers and, thereby, to inhibit recovery of ecological conditions after any remediation of mine water discharges. Sediments remain metal-rich over long time periods and have long-term potential ecotoxicological interactions with local biota, unless the sediments themselves are physically removed or replaced by less metal-rich sediment. Laboratory-derived environmental quality standards are difficult to apply to the field situation, as many complicating factors exist in the real world. Therefore, there is a strong case to consider other, field-relevant, measures of toxic effects as alternatives to laboratory-derived standards and to seek better biological tools to detect, diagnose and ideally predict community-level ecotoxicological impairment. Hence, this review concentrated on field measures of toxic effects of metal-rich sediment in freshwater streams, with less emphasis on laboratory-based toxicity testing approaches. To this end, this review provides an overview of the impact of metal-rich sediments on freshwater stream life, focusing on biological impacts linked to metal contamination.