The effect of salinity on the activity of nitrifying bacteria, floc characteristics, and microbial community structure accessed by fluorescent in situ hybridization and polymerase chain reaction-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis techniques was investigated. Two sequencing batch reactors (SRB 1 and SBR 2) treating synthetic wastewater were subjected to increasing salt concentrations. In SBR 1, four salt concentrations (5, 10, 15, and 20 g NaCl/L) were tested, while in SBR 2, only two salt concentrations (10 and 20 g NaCl/L) were applied in a more shock-wise manner. The two different salt adaptation strategies caused different changes in microbial community structure, but did not change the nitrification performance, suggesting that regardless of the different nitrifying bacterial community present in the reactor, the nitrification process can be maintained stable within the salt range tested. Specific ammonium oxidation rates were more affected when salt increase was performed more rapidly and dropped 50% and 60% at 20 g NaCl/L for SBR 1 and SBR 2, respectively. A gradual increase in NaCl concentration had a positive effect on the settling properties (i.e., reduction of sludge volume index), although it caused a higher amount of suspended solids in the effluent. Higher organisms (e.g., protozoa, nematodes, and rotifers) as well as filamentous bacteria could not withstand the high salt concentrations. © 2011 The Author(s).