Short-term exposure to fine particle mass (PM) has been associated with adverse health effects, but little is known about the relative toxicity of particle components. We conducted a systematic review to quantify the associations between particle components and daily mortality and hospital admissions. Medline, Embase and Web of Knowledge were searched for time series studies of sulphate (SO4(2-)), nitrate (NO3(-)), elemental and organic carbon (EC and OC), particle number concentrations (PNC) and metals indexed to October 2013. A multi-stage sifting process identified eligible studies and effect estimates for meta-analysis. SO4(2-), NO3(-), EC and OC were positively associated with increased all-cause, cardiovascular and respiratory mortality, with the strongest associations observed for carbon: 1.30% (95% CI: 0.17%, 2.43%) increase in all-cause mortality per 1 μg/m(3). For PNC, the majority of associations were positive with confidence intervals that overlapped 0%. For metals, there were insufficient estimates for meta-analysis. There are important gaps in our knowledge of the health effects associated with short-term exposure to particle components, and the literature also lacks sufficient geographical coverage and analyses of cause-specific outcomes. The available evidence suggests, however, that both EC and secondary inorganic aerosols are associated with adverse health effects.