In classical enzymology, intermediates and transition states in a catalytic mechanism are usually inferred from a series of biochemical experiments. Here, we derive an enzyme mechanism from true atomic-resolution x-ray structures of reaction intermediates. Two ultra-high resolution structures of wild-type and mutant d-2-deoxyribose-5-phosphate (DRP) aldolase complexes with DRP at 1.05 and 1.10 angstroms unambiguously identify the postulated covalent carbinolamine and Schiff base intermediates in the aldolase mechanism. In combination with site-directed mutagenesis and (1)H nuclear magnetic resonance, we can now propose how the heretofore elusive C-2 proton abstraction step and the overall stereochemical course are accomplished. A proton relay system appears to activate a conserved active-site water that functions as the critical mediator for proton transfer.