Secondary loss of photosynthesis is observed across almost all plastid-bearing branches of the eukaryotic tree of life. However, genome-based insights into the transition from a phototroph into a secondary heterotroph have so far only been revealed for parasitic species. Free-living organisms can yield unique insights into the evolutionary consequence of the loss of photosynthesis, as the parasitic lifestyle requires specific adaptations to host environments. Here, we report on the diploid genome of the free-living diatom Nitzschia putrida (35 Mbp), a nonphotosynthetic osmotroph whose photosynthetic relatives contribute ca. 40% of net oceanic primary production. Comparative analyses with photosynthetic diatoms and heterotrophic algae with parasitic lifestyle revealed that a combination of gene loss, the accumulation of genes involved in organic carbon degradation, a unique secretome, and the rapid divergence of conserved gene families involved in cell wall and extracellular metabolism appear to have facilitated the lifestyle of a free-living secondary heterotroph.