The accessory gene regulator (agr) locus influences the expression of many virulence genes in the human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus. Four allelic groups of agr, which generally inhibit the regulatory activity of each other, have been identified within the species. Interference in virulence gene expression caused by different agr groups has been suggested to be a mechanism for isolating bacterial populations and a fundamental basis for subdividing the species. To test the hypothesis that the species is phylogenetically structured according to agr groups, we mapped agr groups onto a clone phylogeny inferred from partial sequences of 14 genes from 27 genetically diverse strains. Shimodaira-Hasegawa and parametric bootstrap tests rejected the hypotheses that the species is subdivided into three or five monophyletic agr groups but failed to reject the hypothesis that the species is subdivided into two groups that each consist of multiple clonal complexes and multiple agr groups. Additional evidence for agr recombination is found from clustered polymorphisms in complete agr sequences. However, agr recombination has not occurred frequently or randomly through time, because the topology and branch lengths of the clone phylogeny are reflected within each agr group. To account for these observations, we propose a new evolutionary model that involves a genetically polymorphic ancestral population of S. aureus that horizontally transferred agr groups between two subspecies groups near the time that these subspecies groups diverged.