Soil bacterial communities are central to ecosystem functioning and services, yet spatial variations in their composition and diversity across biomes and climatic regions remain largely unknown. We employ multivariate general additive modeling of recent global soil bacterial datasets to elucidate dependencies of bacterial richness on key soil and climatic attributes. Although results support the well-known association between bacterial richness and soil pH, a hierarchy of novel covariates offers surprising new insights. Defining climatic soil water content explains both, the extent and connectivity of aqueous micro-habitats for bacterial diversity and soil pH, thus providing a better causal attribution. Results show that globally rare and abundant soil bacterial phylotypes exhibit different levels of dependency on environmental attributes. Surprisingly, the strong sensitivity of rare bacteria to certain environmental conditions improves their predictability relative to more abundant phylotypes that are often indifferent to variations in environmental drivers.