The expression of some very short open reading frames (ORFs) in Escherichia coli results in peptidyl-tRNA accumulation that is lethal to cells defective in peptidyl-tRNA hydrolase activity. In an attempt to understand the factors that affect this phenotype, we have surveyed the toxicity of a complete set of two-codon ORFs cloned as minigenes in inducible expression vectors. The minigenes were tested in hydrolase-defective hosts and classified according to their degree of toxicity. In general, minigenes harboring codons belonging to the same box in the standard table of the genetic code mediated similar degrees of toxicity. Moreover, the levels of peptidyl-tRNA accumulation for synonymous minigenes decoded by the same tRNA were comparable. However, two exceptions were observed: (i) expression of minigenes harboring the Arg codons CGA, CGU, and CGC, resulted in the accumulation of different levels of the unique peptidyl-tRNAArg-2 and (ii) the toxicity of minigenes containing CUG and UCU codons, each recognized by two different tRNAs, depended on peptidyl-tRNA accumulation of only one of them. Non-toxic, or partly toxic, minigenes prompted higher accumulation levels of peptidyl-tRNA upon deprivation of active RF1, implying that translation termination occurred efficiently. Our data indicate that the nature of the last decoding tRNA is crucial in the rate of peptidyl-tRNA release from the ribosome.