In the last decade emerging single-molecule fluorescence-spectroscopy tools have been developed and adapted to analyze individual molecules under various conditions. Single-molecule-sensitive optical techniques are now well established and help to increase our understanding of complex problems in different disciplines ranging from materials science to cell biology. Previous dreams, such as the monitoring of the motility and structural changes of single motor proteins in living cells or the detection of single-copy genes and the determination of their distance from polymerase molecules in transcription factories in the nucleus of a living cell, no longer constitute unsolvable problems. In this Review we demonstrate that single-molecule fluorescence spectroscopy has become an independent discipline capable of solving problems in molecular biology. We outline the challenges and future prospects for optical single-molecule techniques which can be used in combination with smart labeling strategies to yield quantitative three-dimensional information about the dynamic organization of living cells.