The growth and metabolism of microbial communities on biologically activated carbon (BAC) play a crucial role in the purification of drinking water. To gain insight into the growth and metabolic characteristics of microbial communities and the efficiency of drinking water treatment in a BAC filter, we analyzed the heterotrophic plate count (HPC), phospholipid, dehydrogenase, metabolic function and water quality parameters during start-up and steady-state periods. In the start-up process of the filter with natural biofilm colonization, the variation in heterotrophic plate count levels was S-curved. The total phospholipid level was very low during the first 5 days and reached a maximum value after 40 days in the filter. The activity of dehydrogenase gradually increased during the first 30 days and then reached a plateau. The functional diversity of the microbial community in the filter increased, and then reached a relatively stable level by day 40. After an initial decrease, which was followed by an increase, the removal rate of NH4+-N and CODMn became stable and was 80% and 28%, respectively, by day 40. The consumption rate of dissolved oxygen reached a steady level after 29 days, and remained at 18%. At the steady operation state, the levels of HPC, phospholipid, dehydrogenase activity and carbon source utilization had no significant differences after 6 months compared to levels measured on day 40. The filter was shown to be effective in removing NH4+-N, NO2--N, CODMn, UV254, biodegradable dissolved organic carbon and trace organic pollutants from the influent. Our results suggest that understanding changes in the growth and metabolism of microorganisms in BAC filter could help to improve the efficiency of biological treatment of drinking water.