The decay rate of particulate organic carbon (POC) and nitrogen (PON) was followed during 94 days in three homogenized sediment microcosms: 1. With a natural density of the polychaete Nereis virens (NOx-cores); 2. Defaunated, with an aerobic water phase (Ox-cores); and 3. Defaunated, with an anaerobic water phase (An-cores). In all cores there was a marked preferential mineralization of PON compared to POC. The presence of Nereis increased the net decomposition of POC and PON 2.6 and 1.6 times relative to Ox-cores. Ventilation of burrow structures by the worms increased the flux of O2, TCO2 and DIN across the sediment-water interface 2.5–3.5 times. This significantly decreased the pore water concentrations of TCO2 and DIN. Similarly, nitrification and denitrification were stimulated 2.3–2.4 times due to nereid activity. Oxygen did not increase organic degradation: in fact, the decay of POC and PON was faster in An- than in Ox-cores, 1.5–1.6 and 1.2 times, respectively. Sulfate reduction, measured at the end of experiment, was surprisingly low in the aerobic NOx- and Ox-cores relative to An-cores. Net ammonium production measured at the end of the experiment agreed with the mean loss of PON for Ox- and An-cores, but was low for NOx-cores, suggesting that a high C:N substrate was being degraded in these cores at the end. An empirical model describing the temporal decay pattern of POC and PON is presented: the detritus in all cores were initially composed of two fractions (similar C:N); a readily degradable (∼43%) and a low degradable (∼57%) fraction. A substantial part of the degradable fraction in NOx-cores was used during the experiment, with nitrogen being mineralized preferentially. The mean C:N molar ratio of detritus used was 5.9, compared to a value of 15.5 determined at the end. The Ox- and An-cores, however, showed similar C:N ratios for the detritus used during the experiment (3.7 and 4.8) and that measured at the end (4.2 and 4.6). Presumably not all the low C:N detritus had yet been mineralized in these cores at the end of experiment.