Two of the largest crude oil-polluted areas in the world are the semi-enclosed Mediterranean and Red Seas, but the effect of chronic pollution remains incompletely understood on a large scale. We compared the influence of environmental and geographical constraints and anthropogenic forces (hydrocarbon input) on bacterial communities in eight geographically separated oil-polluted sites along the coastlines of the Mediterranean and Red Seas. The differences in community compositions and their biodegradation potential were primarily associated (P < 0.05) with both temperature and chemical diversity. Furthermore, we observed a link between temperature and chemical and biological diversity that was stronger in chronically polluted sites than in pristine ones where accidental oil spills occurred. We propose that low temperature increases bacterial richness while decreasing catabolic diversity and that chronic pollution promotes catabolic diversification. Our results further suggest that the bacterial populations in chronically polluted sites may respond more promptly in degrading petroleum after accidental oil spills.