The heat shock response in Drosophila is primarily dependent on the binding of the heat shock transcription factor, HSF, to conserved sequences in heat shock gene promoters, the heat shock elements (HSEs). Here we examine the kinetic relationship of HSF binding to chromosomal loci and heat shock gene transcription in vivo. The features of heat shock promoters that determine the kinetics of HSF binding are also examined. Analyses of HSF association by indirect immunofluorescence with an anti-HSF antibody reveal that fluorescent signals at many loci on polytene chromosomes rapidly increase and then gradually decrease as heat shock time progresses. While overall amounts of fluorescent signal vary from locus to locus, the patterns of acquisition and loss of HSF at most loci are coordinated with only one identified exception. Immunostaining with an anti-RNA polymerase II antibody indicates that the kinetics of RNA polymerase II accumulation on the heat shock loci are similar to those of HSF. Furthermore, nuclear run-on assays confirm that the major heat shock genes are coordinately transcribed during the attenuation period. In contrast, the kinetics of HSF association with HSE "polymers" in a transgenic fly strain are not coordinated with those of endogenous loci. The addition of core promoter sequences to one of the HSEs found in the polymer restores coordinate HSF binding, suggesting that the kinetic patterns of HSF binding depend on a core promoter located near the HSEs. Finally, the distribution of the heat shock protein HSP70 is examined for its role in regulating the attenuated response of HSF to heat shock.