Geochemistry of fine-fraction streambed sediments collected from the upper Illinois River basin was surveyed in the fall of 1987 as part of the U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment pilot projects. The survey included 567 samples analyzed for 46 elements. Three distinctive distribution patterns were found for seven U.S. Environmental Protection Agency priority pollutants surveyed, as well as for boron and phosphorus: (1) enrichment of elements in the Chicago urban area and in streams draining the urban area relative to rural areas, (2) enrichment in main stems relative to tributaries, and (3) enrichment in low-order streams at high-population-density sites relative to low-population-density sites. Significant differences in background concentrations, as measured by samples from low-order streams, were observed among five subbasins in the study area. Uncertain geochemical correspondence between low-order, background sites and high-order, generally metal enriched sites prevented determination of background levels that would be appropriate for high-order sites. The within-sample ratio of enriched elements was variable within the Chicago area but was constant in the Illinois River downstream from Chicago. Element ratios imply a composite fine-fraction sediment in the Illinois River of 35-40 percent Des Plaines River origin and 60-65 percent Kankakee River origin.