Soil organic matter (SOM) is a primary re??servoir of terrestrial sulfur (S), but its role in the global S cycle remains poorly understood. We examine S speciation by X-ray absorption near-edge structure (XANES) spectroscopy to describe S species behavior during SOM decomposition. Sulfur species in SOM were best represented by organic sulfide, sulfoxide, sulfonate, and sulfate. The highest fraction of S in litter was organic sulfide, but as decomposition progressed, relative fractions of sulfonate and sulfate generally increased. Over 6-month laboratory incubations, organic sulfide was most reactive, suggesting that a fraction of this species was associated with a highly labile pool of SOM. During humification, relative concentrations of sulfoxide consistently decreased, demonstrating the importance of sulfoxide as a reactive S phase in soil. Sulfonate fractional abundance increased during humification irrespective of litter type, illustrating its relative stability in soils. The proportion of S species did not differ systematically by litter type, but organic sulfide became less abundant in conifer SOM during decomposition, while sulfate fractional abundance increased. Conversely, deciduous SOM exhibited lesser or nonexistent shifts in organic sulfide and sulfate fractions during decomposition, possibly suggesting that S reactivity in deciduous litter is coupled to rapid C mineralization and independent of S speciation. All trends were consistent in soils across study sites. We conclude that S reactivity is related to spqciation in SOM, particularly in conifer forests, and S species fractions in SOM change, during decomposition. Our data highlight the importance of intermediate valence species (sulfoxide and sulfonate) in the pedochemical cycling of organic bound S. Copyright 2007 by the American Geophysical Union.