Riverine ecosystems can be conceptualized as ‘bioreactors’ (the riverine bioreactor) which retain and decompose a wide range of organic substrates. The metabolic performance of the riverine bioreactor is linked to their community structure, the efficiency of energy transfer along food chains, and complex interactions among biotic and abiotic environmental factors. However, our understanding of the mechanistic functioning and capacity of the riverine bioreactor remains limited. We review the state of knowledge and outline major gaps in the understanding of biotic drivers of organic matter decomposition processes that occur in riverine ecosystems, across habitats, temporal dimensions, and latitudes influenced by climate change. We propose a novel, integrative analytical perspective to assess and predict decomposition processes in riverine ecosystems. We then use this model to analyse data to demonstrate that the size-spectra of a community can be used to predict decomposition rates by analysing an illustrative dataset. This modelling methodology allows comparison of the riverine bioreactor's performance across habitats and at a global scale. Our integrative analytical approach can be applied to advance understanding of the functioning and efficiency of the riverine bioreactor as hotspots of metabolic activity. Application of insights gained from such analyses could inform the development of strategies that promote the functioning of the riverine bioreactor across global ecosystems.