In this study, the impact of sludge retention time (SRT) on sludge characteristics and microbial community and the effect on membrane fouling in membrane bioreactor (MBR) was investigated. The results show that MBR with longer SRT has less fouling propensity, in agreement with other studies, despite the fact that the MBR with longer SRT contained higher MLSS and smaller particle size. However, much more soluble microbial products (SMPs) were released in MBR with shorter SRT. More slime on the membrane surface was observed in MBR with shorter SRT while sludge cakes formed on the membrane surface in MBR with longer SRT. The results show that SMP contributes to the severe fouling observed in MBR with shorter SRT, which is in agreement with other studies showing that SMPs were the major foulants in MBR. Under different SRTs of operation, the bacterial community structures of the sludge obtained by use of polymerase chain reaction-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (PCR-DGGE) were almost identical, but those on the membrane surface differed substantially. It suggests that, although SRT has impact on sludge characteristics, it doesn't affect the microbial community in the suspension.