Conjugates of estrogenic chemicals, endogenous as well as xenobiotic, are mainly excreted via bile into the intestine. Therefore, measurement of estrogenic activity in bile yields useful information about an organism's internal exposure to (xeno-)estrogens. Although previous studies in The Netherlands have reported estrogenic activity in male fish bile, the contribution of natural hormones and xenobiotic substances to this activity is unknown. To identify compounds responsible for estrogenic activity in fish bile, we developed a bioassay-directed fractionation method for estrogenic chemicals. In this approach, the in vitro reporter gene assay ER-CALUX (Estrogen Responsive Chemical Activated Luciferase Gene Expression) was used to assess estrogenic activity in deconjugated bile samples and to direct RP-HPLC fractionation and chemical analysis (by GC-MS) of estrogenic compounds. The method was applied to bile from male breams (Abramis brama) collected at three locations in The Netherlands. At one of these locations, the River Dommel, extremely high levels of plasma vitellogenin and a high incidence of intersex gonads in these male breams have previously been observed, indicating the exposure to estrogens. In this study, the natural hormones 17β-estradiol, estrone, and estriol accounted for the majority of estrogenic activity in male bream bile. At the River Dommel, the synthetic contraceptive pill component ethynylestradiol was found in effective concentrations as well. The detected natural and synthetic hormones may be responsible for the estrogenic effects observed in wild bream from this location. Furthermore, a large number of xenobiotic chemicals was detected at relatively high levels in bile, including triclosan, chloroxylenol, and clorophene. Although chloroxylenol was shown for the first time to be weakly estrogenic, these compounds did not contribute significantly to the estrogenic activity observed.