Aromatic hydrocarbons belong to the most abundant contaminants in groundwater systems. They can serve as carbon and energy source for a multitude of indigenous microorganisms. Predictions of contaminant biodegradation and microbial growth in contaminated aquifers are often vague because the parameters of microbial activity in the mathematical models used for predictions are typically derived from batch experiments, which don't represent conditions in the field. In order to improve our understanding of key drivers of natural attenuation and the accuracy of predictive models, we conducted comparative experiments in batch and sediment flow-through systems with varying concentrations of contaminant in the inflow and flow velocities applying the aerobic Pseudomonas putida strain F1 and the denitrifying Aromatoleum aromaticum strain EbN1. We followed toluene degradation and bacterial growth by measuring toluene and oxygen concentrations and by direct cell counts. In the sediment columns, the total amount of toluene degraded by P. putida F1 increased with increasing source concentration and flow velocity, while toluene removal efficiency gradually decreased. Results point at mass transfer limitation being an important process controlling toluene biodegradation that cannot be assessed with batch experiments. We also observed a decrease in the maximum specific growth rate with increasing source concentration and flow velocity. At low toluene concentrations, the efficiencies in carbon assimilation within the flow-through systems exceeded those in the batch systems. In all column experiments the number of attached cells plateaued after an initial growth phase indicating a specific "carrying capacity" depending on contaminant concentration and flow velocity. Moreover, in all cases, cells attached to the sediment dominated over those in suspension, and toluene degradation was performed practically by attached cells only. The observed effects of varying contaminant inflow concentration and flow velocity on biodegradation could be captured by a reactive-transport model. By monitoring both attached and suspended cells we could quantify the release of new-grown cells from the sediments to the mobile aqueous phase. Studying flow velocity and contaminant concentrations as key drivers of contaminant transformation in sediment flow-through microcosms improves our system understanding and eventually the prediction of microbial biodegradation at contaminated sites.