Previous experimental and simulation studies of superparamagnetic colloids in a strong external field have systematically shown a nonequilibrium aggregation process in which chains of particles steadily grow in the direction of the applied external field with the average length increasing as a power law over time. Here we show, by employing Langevin dynamics simulations, the existence of a different behavior under the effects of an external magnetic field: after a transient period of chain formation, the system attains an equilibrium state. Furthermore, a thermodynamic self-assembly theory supports the simulation results and it also predicts that the average chain length in the equilibrium state depends only on a dimensionless parameter combining the volume fraction of colloids 0 and the magnetic coupling parameter Γ. The conditions under which this new behavior can be observed are discussed here. © 2011 The Royal Society of Chemistry.