BACKGROUND: while mortality among the oldest old has improved over recent decades, these improvements are not reflected in the suicide mortality of this age group. We do not know the reasons why the suicide mortality is still very high among the oldest old. OBJECTIVE: the aim is to analyse the impact that loss of a partner has on the suicide risks of the oldest old (80+) compared to younger age groups. SUBJECTS: the entire Danish population aged 50 during 1994-1998 (n = 1,978,527). METHODS: we applied survival analysis to calculate the changes in relative risk of suicide after a loss by using individual-level data. RESULTS: the majority of older persons who commit suicide are widowed, although only a relatively small proportion of the oldest old who commit suicide have experienced a recent loss of partner (men: 18%, women: 6%). In absolute terms, the oldest old men experience the highest increase in suicide risk immediately after the loss (15-fold; 95% CI 10.2-23.6) compared to middle-aged men who are still married. Oldest old men seem to suffer more from the loss and need longer time to recover than women. CONCLUSIONS: although a small proportion of oldest old who commit suicide have experienced a recent bereavement, there is a significant increase in the suicide risk during the first year after a bereavement, especially for men. However, the increased risk of suicide in the oldest old men may only in part be explained by the loss of a partner.