We sought to comprehensively assess the prevalence and outcomes of complications associated with Staphylococcus aureus bacteremia (SAB) in children. Secondarily, prevalence of methicillin resistance and outcomes of complications from methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) vs. methicillin-susceptible S. aureus SAB were assessed. This is a single-center cross-sectional study of 376 patients ⩽18 years old with SAB in 1990–2014. Overall, 197 (52%) patients experienced complications, the most common being osteomyelitis (33%), skin and soft tissue infection (31%), and pneumonia (25%). Patients with complications were older (median 3 vs. 0·7 years, P = 0·05) and more had community-associated SAB (66% vs. 34%, P = 0·001). Fewer patients with complications had a SAB-related emergency department or hospital readmission (10% vs. 19%, P = 0·014). Prevalence of methicillin resistance increased from 1990–1999 to 2000–2009, but decreased in 2010–2014. Complicated MRSA bacteremia resulted in more intensive care unit admissions (66% vs. 47%, P = 0·03) and led to increased likelihood of having ⩾2 foci (58% vs. 26%, P < 0·001). From multivariate analysis, community-associated SAB increased risk and concurrent infections decreased risk of complications (odds ratio (OR) 1·82 (1·1–3·02), P = 0·021) and (OR 0·58 (0·34–0·97), P = 0·038), respectively. In conclusion, children with SAB should be carefully evaluated for complications. Methicillin resistance remains associated with poor outcomes but have decreased in overall prevalence.