Rheumatic diseases are a diverse group of disorders. Most of these diseases are heterogeneous in nature and show varying responsiveness to treatment. Because our understanding of the molecular complexity of rheumatic diseases is incomplete and criteria for categorization are limited, we mainly refer to them in terms of group averages. The advent of DNA microarray technology has provided a powerful tool to gain insight into the molecular complexity of these diseases; this technology facilitates open-ended survey to identify comprehensively the genes and biological pathways that are associated with clinically defined conditions. During the past decade, encouraging results have been generated in the molecular description of complex rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjögren syndrome and systemic sclerosis. Here, we describe developments in genomics research during the past decade that have contributed to our knowledge of pathogenesis, and to the identification of biomarkers for diagnosis, patient stratification and prognostication.