The Escherichia coli mutant (ppk) lacking the enzyme polyphosphate kinase, which makes long chains of inorganic polyphosphate (poly P), is deficient in functions expressed in the stationary phase of growth. After 2 days of growth in a medium limited in carbon sources, only 7% of the mutants survived compared with nearly 100% of the wild type; the loss in viability of the mutant was even more pronounced in a rich medium. The mutant showed a greater sensitivity to heat, to an oxidant (H2O2), to a redox-cycling agent (menadione), and to an osmotic challenge with 2.5 M NaCl. After a week or so in the stationary phase, mutant survivors were far fewer in number and were replaced by an outgrowth of a small-colony-size variant with a stable genotype and with improved viability and resistance to heat and H2O2; neither polyphosphate kinase nor long-chain poly P was restored. Suppression of the ppk feature of heat sensitivity by extra copies of rpoS, the gene encoding the RNA polymerase sigma factor that regulates some 50 stationary-phase genes, further implicates poly P in promoting survival in the stationary phase.