We studied the clinical and pathological data for 334 patients age 65 or more who underwent renal biopsy for acute renal failure (ARF, n = 55), subacute renal failure (SRF, n = 72), chronic renal failure (CRF, n = 57), proteinuria (n = 137), and hematuria (n = 13). Tissue diagnoses were glomerulopathy (n = 252, 75.4%), acute tubular lesions (n = 18), interstitial nephritis (n = 23), vascular diseases (n = 36, including 14 with cholesterol emboli), and five miscellaneous diagnoses. Of the 55 patients with ARF, 23 had a glomerular lesion, 15 had acute tubular necrosis, and 8 had acute interstitial nephritis. Of 72 patients with SRF, 49 had a glomerulopathy, 12 had a vascular disorder, and six had acute interstitial nephritis. Hence, patients with ARF or SRF exhibited a high potential for reversible lesions. Only 11.3% of patients with CRF had potentially reversible causes. The most common causes of proteinuria were membranous glomerulopathy (34.3%), minimal change disease (14.6%), focal segmental sclerosis (11.7%), and amyloidosis (8.8%). Of the 25 patients with advanced nephrosclerosis, 24 had renal failure, 20 were hypertensive, and 13 had cholesterol emboli. Of 33 patients with diabetes mellitus, 66.7% were found to have lesions not related to diabetes. We conclude that renal biopsy is most useful in older patients with ARF or SRF because of potentially reversible renal disease. Old age alone is not a contraindication to performing a renal biopsy.