Epithelia form barriers that are essential to life. This is particularly true in the intestine, where the epithelial barrier supports nutrient and water transport while preventing microbial contamination of the interstitial tissues. Along with plasma membranes, the intercellular tight junction is the primary cellular determinant of epithelial barrier function. Disruption of tight junction structure, as a result of specific protein mutations or aberrant regulatory signals, can be both a cause and an effect of disease. Recent advances have provided new insights into the extracellular signals and intracellular mediators of tight junction regulation in disease states as well as into the interactions of intestinal barrier function with mucosal immune cells and luminal microbiota. In this review, we discuss the critical roles of the tight junction in health and explore the contributions of barrier dysfunction to disease pathogenesis.