Here, we present the implementation of the freshwater carbon (C) cycle in the Dynamic In-stream Chemistry module (CARBON-DISC), which is part of the Integrated Model to Assess the Global Environment-Dynamic Global Nutrient Model (IMAGE-DGNM). A coupled hydrology-biogeochemistry approach with 0.5 by 0.5-degree resolution accounts for the spatial and temporal variability in dynamic conditions in the aquatic continuum using independent global databases. This process-based model resolves the concentrations, transformations and transfer fluxes of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and terrestrial and autochthonous particulate organic carbon (POC) from headwaters to river mouth with a time step of 1 month for the period 1950–2000. This is a major step forward in basin scale modelling of the C processing in freshwater systems, since simulated results can be validated at every location and point in time, and the model can be applied for retrodiction and to analyse future scenarios. Validation of the model with long-term measurement data shows a fair agreement, considering that this is a global model. To analyse the performance of the full production-respiration DISC module, two other schemes are presented, including an abiotic system excluding any in-stream processing of DOC and allochthonous production, and an extended abiotic system including heterotrophic respiration, but excluding production. Furthermore, a sensitivity analysis shows that many parameters, such as temperature, solar radiation, organic sediment mineralization rate and C inputs, including particulate organic carbon from terrestrial vegetation and dissolved inorganic carbon from groundwater, strongly affect atmosphere-freshwater exchange of CO2.