All life ends in death, but perhaps one of life's grander ironies is that it also depends on death. Cell-intrinsic suicide pathways, termed programmed cell death (PCD), are crucial for animal development, tissue homeostasis and pathogenesis. Originally, PCD was almost synonymous with apoptosis; recently, however, alternative mechanisms of PCD have been reported. Here, we provide an overview of several distinct PCD mechanisms, namely apoptosis, autophagy and necroptosis. In addition, we discuss the complex signals that emanate from dying cells, which can either trigger regeneration or instruct additional killing. Further advances in understanding the physiological roles of the various mechanisms of cell death and their associated signals will be important to selectively manipulate PCD for therapeutic purposes.