Programmed neuronal cell death is required during development to achieve the accurate wiring of the nervous system. However, genetic or accidental factors can lead to the premature, non-programmed death of neurons during adult life. Inappropriate death of cells in the nervous system is the cause of multiple neurodegenerative disorders. Pathological neuronal death can occur by apoptosis, by necrosis or by a combination of both. Necrotic cell death underlies the pathology of devastating neurological diseases such as neurodegenerative disorders, stroke or trauma. However, little is known about the molecular mechanisms that bring about necrotic cell death. Proteases play crucial roles in neuron degeneration by exerting both regulatory and catabolic functions. Elevated intracellular calcium is the most ubiquitous feature of neuronal death with the concomitant activation of cysteine calcium-dependent proteases, calpains. Calpains and lysosomal, catabolic aspartyl proteases, play key roles in the necrotic death of neurons. In this review, we survey the recent literature on the role of cysteine and aspartyl proteases in necrosis and neurodegeneration, aiming to delineate common proteolytic mechanisms mediating cellular destruction.