Over 20% of Earth’s terrestrial surface is underlain by permafrost with vast stores of carbon that, once thawed, may represent the largest future transfer of carbon from the biosphere to the atmosphere. This process is largely dependent on microbial responses, but we know little about microbial activity in intact, let alone in thawing, permafrost. Molecular approaches have recently revealed the identities and functional gene composition of microorganisms in some permafrost soils and a rapid shift in functional gene composition during short-term thaw experiments. However, the fate of permafrost carbon depends on climatic, hydrological and microbial responses to thaw at decadal scales. Here we use the combination of several molecular ‘omics’ approaches to determine the phylogenetic composition of the microbial communities, including several draft genomes of novel species, their functional potential and activity in soils representing different states of thaw: intact permafrost, seasonally thawed active layer and thermokarst bog. The multi-omics strategy reveals a good correlation of process rates to omics data for dominant processes, such as methanogenesis in the bog, as well as novel survival strategies for potentially active microbes in permafrost.