In growing Escherichia coli cells, the master regulator of the general stress response, sigmaS (RpoS), is subject to rapid proteolysis. In response to stresses such as sudden carbon starvation, osmotic upshift or shift to acidic pH, sigmaS degradation is inhibited, sigmaS accumulates and numerous sigmaS-dependent genes with stress-protective functions are activated. sigmaS proteolysis is dependent on ClpXP protease and the response regulator RssB, whose phosphorylated form binds directly to sigmaS in vitro. Here, we show that substitutions of aspartate 58 (D58) in RssB, which result in higher sigmaS levels in vivo, produce RssB variants unable to bind sigmaS in vitro. Thus, RssB is the direct substrate recognition factor in sigmaS proteolysis, whose affinity for sigmaS depends on phosphorylation of its D58 residue. RssB does not dimerize or oligomerize upon this phosphorylation and sigmaS binding, and RssB and sigmaS exhibit a 1:1 stoichiometry in the complex. The receiver as well as the output domain of RssB are required for sigmaS binding (as shown in vivo and in vitro) and for complementation of an rssB null mutation. Thus, the N-terminal receiver domain plays an active and positive role in RssB function. Finally, we demonstrate that RssB is not co-degraded with sigmaS, i.e. RssB has a catalytic role in the initiation of sigmaS turnover. A model is presented that integrates the details of RssB-sigmaS interaction, the RssB catalytic cycle and potential stress signal input in the control of sigmaS proteolysis.