The past decade has witnessed an explosion of knowledge regarding the vast microbial community that resides within our intestine-the gut microbiota. The topic has generated great expectations in terms of gaining a better understanding of disorders ranging from IBD to metabolic disorders and obesity. IBS is a condition for which investigators have long been in search of plausible underlying pathogeneses and it is inevitable that altered composition or function of the gut microbiota will be considered as a potential aetiological factor in at least a subset of patients with IBS. This Review describes the evidence implicating the gut microbiota in not only the expression of the intestinal manifestations of IBS, but also the psychiatric morbidity that coexists in up to 80% of patients with IBS. The evidence described herein ranges from proof-of-concept studies in animals to observational studies and clinical trials in humans. The gut microbiota is subject to influences from a diverse range of factors including diet, antibiotic usage, infection and stress. These factors have previously been implicated in the pathophysiology of IBS and further prompt consideration of a role for the gut microbiota in IBS.