Cancer develops when molecular pathways that control the fine balance between proliferation, differentiation, autophagy and cell death undergo genetic deregulation. The prospects for further substantial advances in the management of colorectal cancer reside in a systematic genetic and functional dissection of these pathways in tumor cells. In an effort to evaluate the impact of p38 signaling on colorectal cancer cell fate, we treated HT29, Caco2, Hct116, LS174T and SW480 cell lines with the inhibitor SB202190 specific for p38alpha/beta kinases. We report that p38alpha is required for colorectal cancer cell homeostasis as the inhibition of its kinase function by pharmacological blockade or genetic inactivation causes cell cycle arrest, autophagy and cell death in a cell type-specific manner. Deficiency of p38alpha activity induces a tissue-restricted upregulation of the GABARAP gene, an essential component of autophagic vacuoles and autophagosomes, whereas simultaneous inhibition of autophagy significantly increases cell death by triggering apoptosis. These data identify p38alpha as a central mediator of colorectal cancer cell homeostasis and establish a rationale for the evaluation of the pharmacological manipulation of the p38alpha pathway in the treatment of colorectal cancer.