The biochemical mechanisms involved in the regulation and execution of developmental cell death are strikingly conserved from nematodes to humans. As a consequence, powerful genetic approaches to the dissection of the developmental cell death pathway in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (referred to as programmed cell death) have provided insights into rules that govern cellular life/death decisions, the process by which cells die, and the elimination of cell corpses that are relevant to understanding similar processes in higher organisms. As is the case for most metazoans, C. elegans neurons can also undergo a necrotic-like death when injured. Study of the basic biology of degenerative cell death in nematodes may thus also extend understanding of mechanisms of aberrant cell death in higher organisms. Here we first review the features of the nematode experimental system and then discuss current understanding of both developmental and degenerative cell death mechanisms in C. elegans.