Intratumoral heterogeneity is a major obstacle to cancer treatment and a significant confounding factor in bulk-tumor profiling. We performed an unbiased analysis of transcriptional heterogeneity in colorectal tumors and their microenvironments using single-cell RNA–seq from 11 primary colorectal tumors and matched normal mucosa. To robustly cluster single-cell transcriptomes, we developed reference component analysis (RCA), an algorithm that substantially improves clustering accuracy. Using RCA, we identified two distinct subtypes of cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs). Additionally, epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT)-related genes were found to be upregulated only in the CAF subpopulation of tumor samples. Notably, colorectal tumors previously assigned to a single subtype on the basis of bulk transcriptomics could be divided into subgroups with divergent survival probability by using single-cell signatures, thus underscoring the prognostic value of our approach. Overall, our results demonstrate that unbiased single-cell RNA–seq profiling of tumor and matched normal samples provides a unique opportunity to characterize aberrant cell states within a tumor.