Sunday circulation also fell 3.1 percent at newspapers reporting to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, according to an analysis of the data by the Newspaper Association of America.
The declines show an acceleration of a years-long trend of falling circulation at daily newspapers as more people, especially young adults, turn to the Internet for news and as newspapers cut back on less profitable circulation.
In the previous six-month reporting period ending in March, weekday circulation fell 1.9 percent at U.S. daily newspapers and Sunday circulation fell 2.5 percent.
Circulation at the country's three largest newspapers was relatively stable, but many others showed significant declines.
Gannett Co.'s USA Today, the largest-selling daily, slipped 0.6 percent from the same period a year ago to 2,296,335; The Wall Street Journal, published by Dow Jones & Co., fell 1.1 percent to 2,083,660; and The New York Times Co.'s flagship paper rose 0.5 percent to 1,126,190.
Of the rest of the top 20 newspapers reporting, all but one, the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., posted declines generally ranging between 1 percent and 8 percent.
The San Francisco Chronicle, published by Hearst Corp., posted a 16.4 percent tumble in circulation as the newspaper slashed back on less profitable, heavily discounted and giveaway circulation subsidized by advertisers.
Circulation has been steadily declining at newspapers for several years as readers look to other media such as cable TV and the Internet for news. Tougher rules on telemarketing have also hurt newspapers' ability to sign up new readers.
Newspapers also face sluggish growth in advertising, higher newsprint prices and increasing concern among investors about their growth prospects. The second-largest newspaper publisher in the country, Knight Ridder Inc., is facing a revolt from two of its top shareholders, who want the company to be sold.
Four newspapers whose circulation was affected by Hurricane Katrina did not file statements with the Audit Bureau: The Times-Picayune of New Orleans; the American Press in Lake Charles, La.; The Beaumont Enterprise in Texas; and The Daily Leader in Brookhaven, Miss.
Also, four major newspapers which had been barred from filing circulation data for the previous two reporting periods deferred making reports until their next six-month audits are complete. Those papers are Newsday of New York's Long Island; the Dallas Morning News; the Chicago Sun-Times and Hoy, a Spanish-language newspaper in New York.