The essential processing of ribosomal rRNA precursors requires concerted and sequential cleavages by different endo- and exoribonucleases. Despite long lasting investigations of these processes the exact order of steps remained elusive. Many bacteria perform additional rRNA processing steps by removing intervening sequences within the 23S rRNA. This leads to disintegration of the 23S rRNA and discontinuously assembled fragments within the ribosomes. The maturation of these fragments also requires successive cleavage events by different RNases. Our study reveals that the 5'-to-3' exoribonuclease RNase J is responsible for the final 5'-end maturation of all three 23S rRNA fragments in the α-proteobacterium Rhodobacter sphaeroides. Additionally the results show that 5'- and 3'-processing steps are closely coupled: mature 5'-ends are a strict prerequisite for the final 3'-trimming of the 23S rRNA fragments.