Stable nitrogen isotope ratios are routinely used to trace the dispersion and assimilation of wastewater-derived N in receiving environments, but few isotope studies have investigated wastewater treatment plants and ponds themselves. An improved understanding of N isotope compositions in effluent will help assess treatment plant processes and performance and will help trace sources of excess nutrients in receiving environments. Here, we assess N budgets and treatment processes in seven wastewater treatment plants and wastewater stabilisation ponds in northern Australia based on concentrations and isotope ratios of N in effluent. We show that δ15N values in effluent are linked to treatment type, effectiveness of conversion of ammonia and levels of gaseous N emissions. These relationships suggest that N isotope monitoring of wastewater treatment plants and ponds can provide an integrated assessment of treatment performance and gaseous N emissions on a pond- or plant-wide scale that is not readily available through other methods. Our findings further imply that monitoring N isotope ratios in receiving environments cannot be assumed to be universally effective as their sensitivity to uptake of wastewater-derived N will vary with the characteristics of individual treatment systems. Paradoxically, N isotope monitoring is less effective where treatment systems are functioning poorly and where monitoring needs are the greatest.