Severe sepsis and septic shock are as common and lethal as other acute life-threatening conditions that emergency physicians routinely confront such as acute myocardial infarction, stroke, and trauma. Recent studies have led to a better understanding of the pathogenic mechanisms and the development of new or newly applied therapies. These therapies place early and aggressive management of severe sepsis and septic shock as integral to improving outcome. This independent review of the literature examines the recent pathogenic, diagnostic, and therapeutic advances in severe sepsis and septic shock for adults, with particular relevance to emergency practice. Recommendations are provided for therapies that have been shown to improve outcomes, including early goal-directed therapy, early and appropriate antimicrobials, source control, recombinant human activated protein C, corticosteroids, and low tidal volume mechanical ventilation.