The rapidly increasing use of silver nanoparticles (Ag NPs) in consumer products and medical applications has raised ecological and human health concerns. A key question for addressing these concerns is whether Ag NP toxicity is mechanistically unique to nanoparticulate silver, or if it is a result of the release of silver ions. Furthermore, since Ag NPs are produced in a large variety of monomer sizes and coatings, and since their physicochemical behavior depends on the media composition, it is important to understand how these variables modulate toxicity. We found that a lower ionic strength medium resulted in greater toxicity (measured as growth inhibition) of all tested Ag NPs to Caenorhabditis elegans, and that both dissolved silver and coating influenced Ag NP toxicity. We found a linear correlation between Ag NP toxicity and dissolved silver, but no correlation between size and toxicity. We used three independent and complementary approaches to investigate the mechanisms of toxicity of differentially coated and sized Ag NPs: pharmacological (rescue with trolox and N-acetylcysteine), genetic (analysis of metal-sensitive and oxidative stress-sensitive mutants), and physicochemical (including analysis of dissolution of Ag NPs). Oxidative dissolution was limited in our experimental conditions (maximally 15% in 24 h), yet was key to the toxicity of most Ag NPs, highlighting a critical role for dissolved silver complexed with thiols in the toxicity of all tested Ag NPs. Some Ag NPs (typically less soluble due to size or coating) also acted via oxidative stress, an effect specific to nanoparticulate silver. However, in no case studied here was the toxicity of a Ag NP greater than would be predicted by complete dissolution of the same mass of silver as silver ions.