Microcirculatory dysfunction plays a pivotal role in the development of the clinical manifestations of severe sepsis. Prior to the advent of new imaging technologies, clinicians had been limited in their ability to assess the microcirculation at the bedside. Clinical evidence of microcirculatory perfusion has historically been limited to physical examination findings or surrogates that could be derived from global parameters of oxygen transport. This review explores: (1) the clinical manifestations of severe sepsis that can be linked to microcirculatory dysfunction; (2) the relationship between conventional hemodynamic parameters and microcirculatory blood flow indices; (3) the incorporation of microcirculatory function into the definition of 'shock' in the sepsis syndrome; (4) the role of the microcirculation in oxygen transport; and (5) the potential impact of novel sepsis therapies on microcirculatory flow. Although the study of the microcirculation has long been the domain of basic science, newly developed imaging technologies, such as orthogonal polarization spectral imaging, have now given us the ability to directly visualize and analyze microcirculatory blood flow at the bedside, and see the microcirculatory response to therapeutic interventions. Disordered microcirculatory flow can now be associated with systemic inflammation, acute organ dysfunction, and increased mortality. Using new technologies to directly image microcirculatory blood flow will help define the role of microcirculatory dysfunction in oxygen transport and circulatory support in severe sepsis.