Anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox) and denitrification are two important processes responsible for nitrogen loss; monitoring of microbial communities carrying out these two processes offers a unique opportunity to understand the microbial nitrogen cycle. The aim of the current study was to characterize community structures and distribution of anammox and nirS-encoding nitrite-reducing bacteria in surface sediments of the northern South China Sea (SCS). The consistent phylogenetic results of three biomarkers of anammox bacteria, including 16S rRNA, hzo, and Scalindua-nirS genes, showed that Scalindua-like bacteria were the only anammox group presenting in surface sediments of the SCS. However, a relatively high micro-diversity was found within this group, including several SCS habitat-specific phylotypes, Candidatus "Scalindua zhenghei". Comparing to 16S rRNA gene, hzo and Scalindua-nirS genes provided a relatively higher resolution to elucidate anammox bacteria. For the nirS-encoding nitrite-reducing bacteria, the detected nirS gene sequences were closely related to various marine nirS denitrifiers, especially those which originated from coastal and estuarine sediments with a much higher diversity than anammox bacteria. Anammox bacterial communities shifted along with the seawater depth, while nirS-encoding nitrite-reducing bacteria did not. Although nirS-encoding nitrite-reducing bacteria have a much higher abundance and diversity than anammox bacteria, they showed similar abundance variation patterns in research sites, suggesting the two microbial groups might be affected by the similar environmental factors. The significant correlations among the abundance of the two microbial groups with the molar ratio of NH4 + to (NO2 - + NO3 -), pH, and organic matters of sediments strongly supported this hypothesis.