The regulatory noncoding small RNAs (sRNAs) of bacteria are key elements influencing gene expression; however, there has been little evidence that beneficial bacteria use these molecules to communicate with their animal hosts. We report here that the bacterial sRNA SsrA plays an essential role in the light-organ symbiosis between Vibrio fischeri and the squid Euprymna scolopes. The symbionts load SsrA into outer membrane vesicles, which are transported specifically into the epithelial cells surrounding the symbiont population in the light organ. Although an SsrA-deletion mutant (ΔssrA) colonized the host to a normal level after 24 h, it produced only 2/10 the luminescence per bacterium, and its persistence began to decline by 48 h. The host's response to colonization by the ΔssrA strain was also abnormal: the epithelial cells underwent premature swelling, and host robustness was reduced. Most notably, when colonized by the ΔssrA strain, the light organ differentially up-regulated 10 genes, including several encoding heightened immune-function or antimicrobial activities. This study reveals the potential for a bacterial symbiont's sRNAs not only to control its own activities but also to trigger critical responses promoting homeostasis in its host. In the absence of this communication, there are dramatic fitness consequences for both partners.