The RNA degradosome is a massive multi-enzyme assembly that occupies a nexus in RNA metabolism and post-transcriptional control of gene expression in Escherichia coli and many other bacteria. Powering RNA turnover and quality control, the degradosome serves also as a machine for processing structured RNA precursors during their maturation. The capacity to switch between destructive and processing modes involves cooperation between degradosome components and is analogous to the process of RNA surveillance in other domains of life. Recruitment of components and cellular compartmentalisation of the degradosome are mediated through small recognition domains that punctuate a natively unstructured segment within a scaffolding core. Dynamic in conformation, variable in composition and non-essential under certain laboratory conditions, the degradosome has nonetheless been maintained throughout the evolution of many bacterial species, due most likely to its diverse contributions in global cellular regulation. We describe the role of the degradosome and its components in RNA decay pathways in E. coli, and we broadly compare these pathways in other bacteria as well as archaea and eukaryotes. We discuss the modular architecture and molecular evolution of the degradosome, its roles in RNA degradation, processing and quality control surveillance, and how its activity is regulated by non-coding RNA. Parallels are drawn with analogous machinery in organisms from all life domains. Finally, we conjecture on roles of the degradosome as a regulatory hub for complex cellular processes.