In this work, we use Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (13C NMR) data to quantify the changes of major chemical compound classes (carboxylic acid, amide, ester, aliphatic, aromatic and carbohydrate) in high molecular weight (HMW, >1kDa) dissolved organic matter (DOM) isolated along a transect through the Elizabeth River/Chesapeake Bay system to the coastal Atlantic Ocean off Virginia, USA. Results show that carboxylic acids and aromatic compounds are lost along the transect, while HMW DOC becomes enriched in carbohydrate moieties that could have a mid-transect source, perhaps the intensive red tide bloom (Choclodinium polykrikoides) which occurred during our sampling period. Taking the second derivative of the FTIR spectra resolved three pools of de-protonated carboxylic acids at our Dismal Swamp site (used to represent terrestrial organic matter in this area): one carboxylic acid pool, complexed with iron, seems to be lost between the Dismal Swamp and river sites; the second appears biogeochemically active throughout the riverine transect, disappearing in the coastal ocean sample; the third seems refractory, with the potential to be transported to and to accumulate within the open ocean. Five-member ring esters (γ-lactones) were the major ester form in the Dismal Swamp; aliphatic and acetate esters were the dominant esters in the estuary/marine DOM. No amide groups were detectable in Dismal Swamp DOM; secondary amides were present at the estuarine/marine sites. Coupling FTIR with 13C NMR provides new insights into the biogeochemical roles of carboxylic acid, amide and ester compounds in aquatic ecosystems.