A classical electromagnetic calculation of the lifetime of an emitting electric dipole near a material slab is presented. The lifetime is deduced from the imaginary part of the electric field Green's tensor associated with the stratified medium. The method is applied not only to the well known case of metallic reflectors, but also to magnetic reflectors and to negative refractive index slabs. The frequency dependence of the nonradiative decay rate at small distances is analyzed and interpreted in terms of the surface polariton modes of the slab. (C) 2004 American Institute of Physics.