G protein-coupled signaling is utilized by a wide variety of eukaryotes for communicating information from the extracellular environment. Signal termination is achieved by the action of the arrestins, which bind to activated, phosphorylated G protein-coupled receptors. We describe here crystallographic studies of visual arrestin in its basal conformation. The salient features of the structure are a bipartite molecule with an unusual polar core. This core is stabilized in part by an extended carboxy-terminal tail that locks the molecule into an inactive state. In addition, arrestin is found to be a dimer of two asymmetric molecules, suggesting an intrinsic conformational plasticity. In conjunction with biochemical and mutagenesis data, we propose a molecular mechanism by which arrestin is activated for receptor binding.