Dissolved organic matter (DOM) plays a central role in driving many chemical and biological processes in soil; however, our understanding of the fluxes and composition of the DOM pool still remains unclear. In this study we investigated the composition and dynamics of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and nitrogen (DON) in five temperate coniferous forests. We subsequently related our findings to the inputs (litterfall, throughfall, atmospheric deposition) and outputs (leaching, respiration) of C and N from the forest and to plant available sources of N. With the exception of NO3-, most of the measured soil solution components (e.g. DOC, DON, NH4+, free amino acids, total phenolics and proteins) progressively declined in concentration with soil depth, particularly in the organic horizons. This decline correlated well with total microbial activity within the soil profile. We calculated that the amount of C lost by soil respiration each day was equivalent to 70% of the DOC pool and 0.06% of the total soil C. The rapid rate of amino acid mineralization and the domination of the low molecular weight soluble N pool by inorganic N suggest that the microbial community is C- rather than N-limited and that C-limitation increases with soil depth. Further, our results suggest that the forest stands were not N-limited and were probably more reliant on inorganic N as a primary N source rather than DON. In conclusion, our results show that the size of the DON and DOC pools are small relative to both the amount of C and N passing through the soil each year and the total C and N present in the soil. In addition, high rates of atmospheric N deposition in these forests may have removed competition for N resources between the plant and microbial communities.