Following HIV diagnosis, linkage to outpatient treatment, antiretroviral initiation, and longitudinal retention in care represent the foundation for successful treatment. While prior studies have evaluated these processes in isolation, a systematic evaluation of successive steps in the same cohort of patients has not yet been performed. To ensure optimal long-term outcomes, a better understanding of the interplay of these processes is needed. Therefore, a retrospective cohort study of patients initiating outpatient care at the University of Alabama at Birmingham 1917 HIV/AIDS Clinic between January 2000 and December 2005 was undertaken. Multivariable models determined factors associated with: late diagnosis/linkage to care (initial CD4 < 350 cells/mm3), timely antiretroviral initiation, and retention across the first two years of care. Delayed linkage was observed in two-thirds of the overall sample (n = 567) and was associated with older age (odds ratio [OR] = 1.31 per 10 years; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.06-1.62) and African American race (OR = 2.45; 95% CI = 1.60-3.74). Attending all clinic visits (hazard ratio [HR] = 6.45; 95% CI = 4.47-9.31) and lower initial CD4 counts led to earlier antiretroviral initiation. Worse retention in the first 2 years was associated with younger age (OR = 0.68 per 10 years; 95% CI = 0.56-0.83), higher baseline CD4 count, and substance abuse (OR = 1.78; 95% CI = 1.16-2.73). Interventions to improve timely HIV diagnosis and linkage to care should focus on older patients and African Americans while efforts to improve retention should address younger patients, those with higher baseline CD4 counts, and substance abuse. Missed clinic visits represent an important obstacle to the timely initiation of antiretroviral therapy. These data inform development of interventions to improve linkage and retention in HIV care, an emerging area of growing importance. © Copyright 2009, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.