Messenger RNAs in prokaryotes exhibit short half-lives when compared with eukaryotic mRNAs. Considerable progress has been made during recent years in our understanding of mRNA degradation in bacteria. Two major aspects determine the life span of a messenger in the bacterial cell. On the side of the substrate, the structural features of mRNA have a profound influence on the stability of the molecule. On the other hand, there is the degradative machinery. Progress in the biochemical characterization of proteins involved in mRNA degradation has made clear that RNA degradation is a highly organized cellular process in which several protein components, and not only nucleases, are involved. In Escherichia coli, these proteins are organized in a high molecular mass complex, the degradosome. The key enzyme for initial events in mRNA degradation and for the assembly of the degradosome is endoribonuclease E. We discuss the identified components of the degradosome and its mode of action. Since research in mRNA degradation suffers from dominance of E. coli-related observations we also look to other organisms to ask whether they could possibly follow the E. coli standard model.