The RNA exosome participates in the degradation and processing of a wide range of RNA molecules. Recent advances in understanding how the exosome is organized and functions largely stem from structural studies. Crystal structures of archaeal exosomes bound to RNA and of the corresponding nine-subunit human exosome core show that the archaeal and eukaryotic complexes have a similar molecular architecture, but have a diverged catalytic mechanism. The crystal structures of two hydrolytic RNases that associate with the exosome provide the framework for their catalytic activity. Negative-stain EM reconstructions give us a first glimpse of how they associate with the core complex. Together, these structural studies have implications for the mechanism of RNA recruitment and degradation by the exosome complexes.