Extracellular signal-regulated protein kinases 1 and 2 (ERK1/2) are members of the mitogen-activated protein kinase super family that can mediate cell proliferation and apoptosis. The Ras-Raf-MEK-ERK signaling cascade controlling cell proliferation has been well studied but the mechanisms involved in ERK1/2-mediated cell death are largely unknown. This review focuses on recent papers that define ERK1/2 translocation to the nucleus and the proteins involved in the cytosolic retention of activated ERK1/2. Cytosolic retention of ERK1/2 denies access to the transcription factor substrates that are responsible for the mitogenic response. In addition, cytosolic ERK1/2, besides inhibiting survival and proliferative signals in the nucleus, potentiates the catalytic activity of some proapoptotic proteins such as DAP kinase in the cytoplasm. Studies that further define the function of cytosolic ERK1/2 and its cytosolic substrates that enhance cell death will be essential to harness this pathway for developing effective treatments for cancer and chronic inflammatory diseases.