In eukaryotes, the core promoter serves as a platform for the assembly of transcription preinitiation complex (PIC) that includes TFIIA, TFIIB, TFIID, TFIIE, TFIIF, TFIIH, and RNA polymerase II (pol II), which function collectively to specify the transcription start site. PIC formation usually begins with TFIID binding to the TATA box, initiator, and/or downstream promoter element (DPE) found in most core promoters, followed by the entry of other general transcription factors (GTFs) and pol II through either a sequential assembly or a preassembled pol II holoenzyme pathway. Formation of this promoter-bound complex is sufficient for a basal level of transcription. However, for activator-dependent (or regulated) transcription, general cofactors are often required to transmit regulatory signals between gene-specific activators and the general transcription machinery. Three classes of general cofactors, including TBP-associated factors (TAFs), Mediator, and upstream stimulatory activity (USA)-derived positive cofactors (PC1/PARP-1, PC2, PC3/DNA topoisomerase I, and PC4) and negative cofactor 1 (NC1/HMGB1), normally function independently or in combination to fine-tune the promoter activity in a gene-specific or cell-type-specific manner. In addition, other cofactors, such as TAF1, BTAF1, and negative cofactor 2 (NC2), can also modulate TBP or TFIID binding to the core promoter. In general, these cofactors are capable of repressing basal transcription when activators are absent and stimulating transcription in the presence of activators. Here we review the roles of these cofactors and GTFs, as well as TBP-related factors (TRFs), TAF-containing complexes (TFTC, SAGA, SLIK/SALSA, STAGA, and PRC1) and TAF variants, in pol II-mediated transcription, with emphasis on the events occurring after the chromatin has been remodeled but prior to the formation of the first phosphodiester bond.