The aim of this work was to verify the presence of seven virulence factors (ST, LT, eae, stx1, stx2, INV and EAEC) among Escherichia coli strains isolated from healthy humans, bovines, chickens, sheep, pigs and goats, from two sewage treatment plants and from the Tietê River. We have found a high prevalence of eae, stx1 and stx2 in ruminants. The EAEC gene was only found in humans and sewage. No strains presented ST, LT or INV. BOX-PCR fingerprints revealed a high diversity among the strains analysed and a non-clonal origin of strains that presented the same virulence factors. Therefore, we concluded that ruminants may constitute an important reservoir of most diarrheagenic E. coli in Brazil, except for EAEC strains. These results emphasize the importance of the identification of the animal source of fecal contamination for the correct water risk assessment.