Anthropogenic salinization of rivers is an emerging issue of global concern, with significant adverse effects on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Impacts of freshwater salinization on biota are strongly mediated by evolutionary history, as this is a major factor determining species physiological salinity tolerance. Freshwater insects dominate most flowing waters, and the common lotic insect orders Ephemeroptera (mayflies), Plecoptera (stoneflies) and Trichoptera (caddisflies) are particularly salt-sensitive. Tolerances of existing taxa, rapid adaption, colonization by novel taxa (from naturally saline environments) and interactions between species will be key drivers of assemblages in saline lotic systems. Here we outline a conceptual framework predicting how communities may change in salinizing rivers. We envision that a relatively small number of taxa will be saline-tolerant and able to colonize salinized rivers (e.g. most naturally saline habitats are lentic; thus potential colonizers would need to adapt to lotic environments), leading to depauperate communities in these environments.