Hydrogen exchange experiments using functional labeling and fragment separation methods were performed to study interactions at the C terminus of the hemoglobin beta subunit that contribute to the phosphate effect and the Bohr effect. The results show that the H-exchange behavior of several peptide NH at the beta chain C terminus is determined by a transient, concerted unfolding reaction involving five or more residues, from the C-terminal His146 beta through at least Ala142 beta, and that H-exchange rate can be used to measure the stabilization free energy of interactions, both individually and collectively, at this locus. In deoxy hemoglobin at pH 7.4 and 0 degrees C, the removal of 2,3-diphosphoglycerate (DPG) or pyrophosphate (loss of a salt to His143 beta) speeds the exchange of the beta chain C-terminal peptide NH protons by 2.5-fold (at high salt), indicating a destabilization of the C-terminal segment by 0.5 kcal of free energy. Loss of the His146 beta 1 to Asp94 beta 1 salt link speeds all these protons by 6.3-fold, indicating a bond stabilization free energy of 1.0 kcal. When both these salt links are removed together, the effect is found to be strictly additive; all the protons exchange faster by 16-fold indicating a loss of 1.5 kcal in stabilization free energy. Added salt is slightly destabilizing when DPG is present but provides some increased stability, in the 0.2 kcal range, when DPG is absent. The total allosteric stabilization energy at each beta chain C terminus in deoxy hemoglobin under these conditions is measured to be 3.8 kcal (pH 7.4, 0 degrees C, with DPG). In oxy hemoglobin at pH 7.4 and 0 degrees C, stability at the beta chain C terminus is essentially independent of salt concentration, and the NES modification, which in deoxy hemoglobin blocks the His146 beta to Asp94 beta salt link, has no destabilizing effect, either at high or low salt. These results appear to show that the His146 beta salt link, which participates importantly in the alkaline Bohr effect, does not reform to Asp94 beta or to any other salt link acceptor in a stable way in oxy hemoglobin at low or high salt conditions.