Oscillations in the activity of cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs) promote progression through the eukaryotic cell cycle. This review examines how proteolysis regulates CDK activity-by degrading CDK activators or inhibitors-and also how proteolysis may directly trigger the transition from metaphase to anaphase. Proteolysis during the cell cycle is mediated by two distinct ubiquitin-conjugation pathways. One pathway, requiring CDC34, initiates DNA replication by degrading a CDK inhibitor. The second pathway, involving a large protein complex called the anaphase-promoting complex or cyclosome, initiates chromosome segregation and exit from mitosis by degrading anaphase inhibitors and mitotic cyclins. Proteolysis therefore drives cell cycle progression not only by regulating CDK activity, but by directly influencing chromosome and spindle dynamics.