The chronic inflammatory state at old age may contribute to the pathophysiology of or reflect chronic conditions resulting in loss of physical and mental functioning. Therefore, our objective was to examine the predictive value of a large battery of serum inflammatory markers as risk indicators for global functional decline and its specific physical and mental determinants in the oldest old. Global functional decline and specific aspects of physical and mental functional decline were assessed during an average of 1.66 years (±0.21) in a sample of 303 persons aged 80 years or older of the BELFRAIL study. Serum levels of 14 inflammatory proteins, including cytokines, growth factors, and acute phase proteins, were measured at baseline. Almost 20 % of the participants had a significant global functional decline over time. Interleukin (IL)-6 serum levels were uniquely positively associated with global functional decline, even after correcting for multiple confounders (odds ratio 1.51). Odds ratios for the individual aspects (physical dependency, physical performance, cognition, and depression) of functioning were lower, and composite scores of physical or mental decline were not significant. The proportion of global functional decline exhibited a dose-response curve with increasing levels of IL-6. Thus, IL-6 is an independent risk indicator for accelerated global functional decline in the oldest old. Our results suggest that simple serum levels of IL-6 may be very useful in short-term identification or evaluation of global functional status in the oldest old.