Helicobacter pylori is a human-specific gastric pathogen that colonizes over half the world's population. Infection with this bacterium is associated with a spectrum of gastric pathologies ranging from mild gastritis to peptic ulcers and gastric cancer. A strong predictor of severe disease outcome is infection with a bacterial strain harbouring the cag (cytotoxin associated gene) pathogenicity island (PAI), a 40 kb stretch of DNA that encodes homologues of several components of a type IV secretion system (TFSS). One gene within the cag PAI, cagA, has been shown to encode a substrate for the TFSS which is translocated into host cells and causes multiple changes in host cell signalling. Here we review recent advances in the characterization of type IV secretion, the activities of CagA and CagA-independent effects of the TFSS, which are contributing to our understanding of H. pylori pathogenesis.