The role of the ocean as a sink for CO2 is partially dependent on the downward transport of phytoplankton cells packaged within fast-sinking particles. However, whether such fast-sinking mechanisms deliver fresh organic carbon down to the deep bathypelagic sea and whether this mechanism is prevalent across the ocean requires confirmation. Here we report the ubiquitous presence of healthy photosynthetic cells, dominated by diatoms, down to 4,000 m in the deep dark ocean. Decay experiments with surface phytoplankton suggested that the large proportion (18%) of healthy photosynthetic cells observed, on average, in the dark ocean, requires transport times from a few days to a few weeks, corresponding to sinking rates (124–732 m d−1) comparable to those of fast-sinking aggregates and faecal pellets. These results confirm the expectation that fast-sinking mechanisms inject fresh organic carbon into the deep sea and that this is a prevalent process operating across the global oligotrophic ocean.