Per-Arnt-Sim (PAS) domains occur in proteins from all kingdoms of life. In the bacterial kingdom, PAS domains are commonly positioned at the amino terminus of signaling proteins such as sensor histidine kinases, cyclic-di-GMP synthases/hydrolases, and methyl-accepting chemotaxis proteins. Although these domains are highly divergent at the primary sequence level, the structures of dozens of PAS domains across a broad section of sequence space have been solved, revealing a conserved three-dimensional architecture. An all-versus-all alignment of 63 PAS structures demonstrates that the PAS domain family forms structural clades on the basis of two principal variables: (a) topological location inside or outside the plasma membrane and (b) the class of small molecule that they bind. The binding of a chemically diverse range of small-molecule metabolites is a hallmark of the PAS domain family. PAS ligand binding either functions as a primary cue to initiate a cellular signaling response or provides the domain with the capacity to respond to secondary physical or chemical signals such as gas molecules, redox potential, or photons. This review synthesizes the current state of knowledge of the structural foundations and evolution of ligand recognition and binding by PAS domains.