The bactericidal effect of photocatalysis with TiO2 is well recognized, although its mode of action is still poorly characterized. It may involve oxidation, as illuminated TiO2 generates reactive oxygen species. Here we analyze the bactericidal effect of illuminated TiO2 in NaCl–KCl or sodium phosphate solutions. We found that adsorption of bacteria on the catalyst occurred immediately in NaCl–KCl solution, whereas it was delayed in the sodium phosphate solution. We also show that the rate of adsorption of cells onto TiO2 is positively correlated with its bactericidal effect. Importantly, adsorption was consistently associated with a reduction or loss of bacterial membrane integrity, as revealed by flow cytometry. Our work suggests that adsorption of cells onto aggregated TiO2, followed by loss of membrane integrity, is key to the bactericidal effect of photocatalysis.