Regulated cell death is an integral part of life, and has broad effects on organism development and homeostasis1. Malfunctions within the regulated cell death process, including the clearance of dying cells, can manifest in diverse pathologies throughout various tissues including the gastrointestinal tract2. A long appreciated, yet elusively defined relationship exists between cell death and gastrointestinal pathologies with an underlying microbial component3–6, but the direct effect of dying mammalian cells on bacterial growth is unclear. Here we advance a concept that several Enterobacteriaceae, including patient-derived clinical isolates, have an efficient growth strategy to exploit soluble factors that are released from dying gut epithelial cells. Mammalian nutrients released after caspase-3/7-dependent apoptosis boosts the growth of multiple Enterobacteriaceae and is observed using primary mouse colonic tissue, mouse and human cell lines, several apoptotic triggers, and in conventional as well as germ-free mice in vivo. The mammalian cell death nutrients induce a core transcriptional response in pathogenic Salmonella, and we identify the pyruvate formate-lyase-encoding pflB gene as a key driver of bacterial colonization in three contexts: a foodborne infection model, a TNF- and A20-dependent cell death model, and a chemotherapy-induced mucositis model. These findings introduce a new layer to the complex host–pathogen interaction, in which death-induced nutrient release acts as a source of fuel for intestinal bacteria, with implications for gut inflammation and cytotoxic chemotherapy treatment.