Upon environmental changes, bacteria reschedule gene expression by directing alternative sigma factors to core RNA polymerase (RNAP). This sigma factor switch is achieved by regulating relative amounts of alternative sigmas and by decreasing the competitiveness of the dominant housekeeping sigma(70). Here we report that during stationary phase, the unorthodox Crl regulator supports a specific sigma factor, sigma(S) (RpoS), in its competition with sigma(70) for core RNAP by increasing the formation of sigma(S)-containing RNAP holoenzyme, Esigma(S). Consistently, Crl has a global regulatory effect in stationary phase gene expression exclusively through sigma(S), that is, on sigma(S)-dependent genes only. Not a specific promoter motif, but sigma(S) availability determines the ability of Crl to exert its function, rendering it of major importance at low sigma(S) levels. By promoting the formation of Esigma(S), Crl also affects partitioning of sigma(S) between RNAP core and the proteolytic sigma(S)-targeting factor RssB, thereby playing a dual role in fine-tuning sigma(S) proteolysis. In conclusion, Crl has a key role in reorganising the Escherichia coli transcriptional machinery and global gene expression during entry into stationary phase.