Diverse microbial life has been detected in the cold desert soils of Antarctica once thought to be barren. Here, we provide metagenomic, biogeochemical, and culture-based evidence that Antarctic soil microorganisms are phylogenetically and functionally distinct from those in other soils and adopt various metabolic and ecological strategies. The most abundant community members are metabolically versatile aerobes that use ubiquitous atmospheric trace gases to potentially meet energy, carbon, and, through metabolic water production, hydration needs. Lineages capable of harvesting solar energy, oxidizing edaphic inorganic substrates, or adopting symbiotic lifestyles were also identified. Altogether, these findings provide insights into microbial adaptation to extreme water and energy limitation and will inform ongoing efforts to conserve the unique biodiversity on this continent.