The adoptive transfer of T lymphocytes reprogrammed to target tumour cells has demonstrated potential for treatment of various cancers1–7. However, little is known about the long-term potential and clonal stability of the infused cells. Here we studied long-lasting CD19-redirected chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells in two patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia1–4 who achieved a complete remission in 2010. CAR T cells remained detectable more than ten years after infusion, with sustained remission in both patients. Notably, a highly activated CD4+ population emerged in both patients, dominating the CAR T cell population at the later time points. This transition was reflected in the stabilization of the clonal make-up of CAR T cells with a repertoire dominated by a small number of clones. Single-cell profiling demonstrated that these long-persisting CD4+ CAR T cells exhibited cytotoxic characteristics along with ongoing functional activation and proliferation. In addition, longitudinal profiling revealed a population of gamma delta CAR T cells that prominently expanded in one patient concomitant with CD8+ CAR T cells during the initial response phase. Our identification and characterization of these unexpected CAR T cell populations provide novel insight into the CAR T cell characteristics associated with anti-cancer response and long-term remission in leukaemia. Infusion of CD19-directed chimeric antigen receptor T cells into two patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia resulted in complete tumour remission and persistence of the infused cells more than ten years later.