Volatile elements (water, carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, halogens, and noble gases) played an essential role in the secular evolution of the solid Earth and emergence of life. Here we provide an overview of Earth's volatile inventories and describe the mechanisms by which volatiles are conveyed between Earth's surface and mantle reservoirs, via subduction and volcanism. Using literature data, we compute volatile concentration and flux estimates for Earth's major volatile reservoirs and provide an internally balanced assessment of modern global volatile recycling. Using a nitrogen isotope box model, we show that recycling of N (and possibly C and S) likely began before 2 Ga and that ingassing fluxes have remained roughly constant since this time. In contrast, our model indicates recycling of H2O(and most likely noble gases) was less efficient in the past. This suggests a decoupling of major volatile species during subduction through time, which we attribute to the evolving thermal regime of subduction zones and the different stabilities of the carrier phases hosting each volatile. ▪ This review provides an overview of Earth's volatile inventory and the mechanisms by which volatiles are transferred between Earth reservoirs via subduction. ▪ The review frames the current thinking regarding how Earth acquired its original volatile inventory and subsequently evolved through subduction processes and volcanism.