PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the impact of postoperative complications and the presence of a stoma on long-term quality of life in patients with rectal cancer. METHODS: Consecutive patients with an adenocarcinoma of the rectum who underwent surgery at Maastricht University Medical Center or VieCuri Medical Center between 2003 and 2005 were included in this study. Data on surgical treatment and complications were collected. Severe postoperative complications were classified according to a standardized complication severity score. Quality of life was assessed by use of the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer core and colorectal cancer-specific quality-of-life questionnaires. RESULTS: One hundred seventy patients received a questionnaire, and 121 (71%) responded. Of the responders, 33 (27.3%) patients suffered from severe postoperative complications. The median follow-up was 36 months. In the univariate analysis, patients with severe postoperative complications had a lower score on physical functioning (73 vs. 85, P = 0.031) and higher scores on pain (17 vs. 0, P = 0.025) and fatigue (33 vs. 22, P = 0.036). Stoma construction (n = 51) was associated with a higher global health status (83 vs. 75, P = 0.019), and these patients reported fewer gastrointestinal problems (P = 0.001). CONCLUSION: Severe postoperative complications seem to be associated with several lower quality-of-life subscores over the long term. In contrast, a stoma is associated with improved global health status and leads to fewer gastrointestinal complaints. In patients prone to complications, it may be sensible to avoid creating a low anastomosis and to construct a permanent stoma immediately.