Biomolecular condensates are membraneless intracellular assemblies that often form via liquid-liquid phase separation and have the ability to concentrate biopolymers. Research over the past 10 years has revealed that condensates play fundamental roles in cellular organization and physiology, and our understanding of the molecular principles, components and forces underlying their formation has substantially increased. Condensate assembly is tightly regulated in the intracellular environment, and failure to control condensate properties, formation and dissolution can lead to protein misfolding and aggregation, which are often the cause of ageing-associated diseases. In this Review, we describe the mechanisms and regulation of condensate assembly and dissolution, highlight recent advances in understanding the role of biomolecular condensates in ageing and disease, and discuss how cellular stress, ageing-related loss of homeostasis and a decline in protein quality control may contribute to the formation of aberrant, disease-causing condensates. Our improved understanding of condensate pathology provides a promising path for the treatment of protein aggregation diseases.