Conceptual frameworks linking microbial community membership, properties, and processes with the environment and emergent function have been proposed but remain untested. Here we refine and test a recent conceptual framework using hyporheic zone sediments exposed to wetting-drying transitions. Our refined framework includes relationships between cumulative properties of a microbial community (e.g., microbial membership, community assembly properties, and biogeochemical rates), environmental features (e.g., organic matter thermodynamics), and emergent ecosystem function. Our primary aim was to evaluate the hypothesized relationships that comprise the conceptual framework and contrast outcomes from the whole and putatively active bacterial and archaeal communities. Throughout the system we found threshold-like responses to the duration of desiccation. Membership of the putatively active community - but not the whole bacterial and archaeal community - responded due to enhanced deterministic selection (an emergent community property). Concurrently, the thermodynamic properties of organic matter (OM) became less favorable for oxidation (an environmental component), and respiration decreased (a microbial process). While these responses were step functions of desiccation, we found that in deterministically assembled active communities, respiration was lower and thermodynamic properties of OM were less favorable. Placing the results in context of our conceptual framework points to previously unrecognized internal feedbacks that are initiated by disturbance and mediated by thermodynamics and that cause the impacts of disturbance to be dependent on the history of disturbance.