The soot combustion mechanism over potassium-supported oxides (MgO, CeO2 and ZrO2) was studied to clarify the active sites and discover unified reaction intermediates in this typical gas-solid-solid catalytic reaction. The catalytically active sites were identified as free K+ rather than K2CO3, which can activate gaseous oxygen. The active oxygen spills over to soot and forms a common intermediate, ketene, before it was further oxidized into the end product CO2. The existence of ketene species was confirmed by density functional theory (DFT) calculations. The oxygen spillover mechanism is proposed, which is explained as an electron transfer from soot to gaseous oxygen through the active K+ sites. The latter mechanism is confirmed for the first time since it was put forward in 1950, not only by ultraviolet photoelectron spectroscopy (UPS) results but also by semi-empirical theoretical calculations.