The availability of the complete genome sequence of Saccharomyces cerevisiae provides the unique opportunity to study an entire genomic complement of retrotransposons from an evolutionary perspective. There are five families of yeast retrotransposons, Ty1-Ty5. We have conducted a series of comparative sequence analyses within and among S. cerevisiae Ty families in an effort to document the evolutionary forces that have shaped element variation. Our results indicate that within families Ty elements vary little in terms of both size and sequence. Furthermore, intra-element 5'-3' long terminal repeat (LTR) sequence comparisons indicate that almost all Ty elements in the genome have recently transposed. For each family, solo LTR sequences generated by intra-element recombination far outnumber full length insertions. Taken together, these results suggest a rapid genomic turnover of S. cerevisiae Ty elements. The closely related Ty1 and Ty2 are the most numerous elements in the genome. Phylogenetic analysis of full length insertions reveals that reverse transcriptase mediated recombination between Ty1 and Ty2 elements has generated a number of hybrid Ty1/2 elements. These hybrid Ty1/2 elements have similar genomic structures with chimeric LTRs and chimeric TYB (pol) genes. Analysis of the levels of nonsynonymous (Ka) and synonymous (Ks) nucleotide variation indicates that Ty1 and Ty2 coding regions have been subject to strong negative (purifying) selection. Distribution of Ka and Ks on Ty1, Ty2 and Ty1/2 phylogenies reveals evidence of negative selection on both internal and external branches. This pattern of variation suggests that the majority of full length Ty1, Ty2 and Ty1/2 insertions represent active or recently active element lineages and is consistent with a high level of genomic turnover. The evolutionary dynamics of S. cerevisae Ty elements uncovered by our analyses are discussed with respect to selection among elements and the interaction between the elements and their host genome.