Numerous studies implicate necrotic cell death in devastating human pathologies such as stroke and neurodegenerative diseases. Investigations in both nematodes and mammals converge to implicate specific calpain and aspartyl proteases in the execution of necrotic cell death. It is believed that these proteases become activated under conditions that inflict necrotic cell death. However, the factors that modulate necrosis and govern the erroneous activation of these otherwise benign enzymes are largely unknown. Here we show that the function of the vacuolar H(+)-ATPase, a pump that acidifies lysosomes and other intracellular organelles, is essential for necrotic cell death in C. elegans. Cytoplasmic pH drops in dying cells. Intracellular acidification requires the vacuolar H(+)-ATPase, whereas alkalization of endosomal and lysosomal compartments by weak bases protects against necrosis. In addition, we show that vacuolar H(+)-ATPase activity is required downstream of cytoplasmic calcium overload during necrosis. Thus, intracellular pH is an important modulator of necrosis in C. elegans. We propose that vacuolar H(+)-ATPase activity is required to establish necrosis-promoting, acidic intracellular conditions that augment the function of executioner aspartyl proteases in dying cells. Similar mechanisms may contribute to necrotic cell death that follows extreme acidosis-for example, during stroke-in humans.