Summary Annual mass treatment with single-dose diethylcarbamazine (DEC) or ivermectin (IVM) in combination with albendazole (ALB) for 4–6 years is the principal tool of lymphatic filariasis (LF) elimination strategy. This placebo-controlled study examined the potential of six rounds of mass treatment with DEC or IVM to eliminate Wuchereria bancrofti infection in humans in rural areas in south India. Apercentage of 54–75 of the eligible population (≥15 kg body weight) received treatment during different rounds of treatment – 27.4% in the DEC arm and 30.7% in the IVM arm received all six treatments, 4.8% and 5.6% received none, and the remainder received one to five treatments. After six cycles of treatment, the microfilaria (Mf) prevalence in treated communities dropped by 86% in the DEC arm (P < 0.01) (n = 5 villages) and by 72% in the IVM arm (P < 0.01) (n = 5 villages), compared with 37% in the placebo arm (P < 0.05) (n = 5 villages). The geometric mean intensity of Mf fell by 91% (t = 8.11, P < 0.05), 84% (t = 6.91, P < 0.05) and 46% (t = 2.98, P < 0.05) in the DEC, IVM and placebo arms, respectively. The proportion of high-count Mf (>50 Mf per 60 mm3 of blood) carriers was reduced by 94% (P < 0.01) in the DEC arm and by 90% (P < 0.01) in the IVM arm. Among those who received all six treatments, 1.4% in the DEC arm and 2.4% in the IVM arm remained positive for Mf. Two of five villages in the DEC arm and one of five in the IVM arm showed zero Mf prevalence, but continued to have low levels of transmission of infection. The results also indicate that DEC is as effective as or slightly better than IVM against microfilaraemia. Results from this and other recent operational studies proved that single-dose treatment with antifilarials is very effective at community level, feasible, logistically easier and cheap and hence a highly appropriate strategy to control or eliminate LF. Higher treatment coverage than that observed in this study and a few more than six cycles of treatment and more effective treatment tools/strategies may be necessary to reduce microfilaraemia to zero level in all communities, which may lead to elimination of LF.