Bacteria can enter the bloodstream in response to infectious insults. Bacteremia elicits several immune and clinical complications, including thrombocytopenia. A primary cause of thrombocytopenia is shortened survival of platelets. We demonstrate that pathogenic bacteria induce apoptotic events in platelets that include calpain-mediated degradation of Bcl-xL, an essential regulator of platelet survival. Specifically, bloodstream bacterial isolates from patients with sepsis induce lateral condensation of actin, impair mitochondrial membrane potential, and degrade Bcl-xL protein in platelets. Bcl-xL protein degradation is enhanced when platelets are exposed to pathogenic Escherichia coli that produce the pore-forming toxin α-hemolysin, a response that is markedly attenuated when the gene is deleted from E coli. We also found that nonpathogenic E coli gain degrading activity when they are forced to express α-hemolysin. Like α-hemolysin, purified α-toxin readily degrades Bcl-xL protein in platelets, as do clinical Staphylococcus aureus isolates that produce α-toxin. Inhibition of calpain activity, but not the proteasome, rescues Bcl-xL protein degradation in platelets coincubated with pathogenic E coli including α-hemolysin producing strains. This is the first evidence that pathogenic bacteria can trigger activation of the platelet intrinsic apoptosis program and our results suggest a new mechanism by which bacterial pathogens might cause thrombocytopenia in patients with bloodstream infections.