Most of the eukaryotic genome is transcribed, yielding a complex network of transcripts that includes tens of thousands of long noncoding RNAs with little or no protein-coding capacity. Although the vast majority of long noncoding RNAs have yet to be characterized thoroughly, many of these transcripts are unlikely to represent transcriptional "noise" as a significant number have been shown to exhibit cell type-specific expression, localization to subcellular compartments, and association with human diseases. Here, we highlight recent efforts that have identified a myriad of molecular functions for long noncoding RNAs. In some cases, it appears that simply the act of noncoding RNA transcription is sufficient to positively or negatively affect the expression of nearby genes. However, in many cases, the long noncoding RNAs themselves serve key regulatory roles that were assumed previously to be reserved for proteins, such as regulating the activity or localization of proteins and serving as organizational frameworks of subcellular structures. In addition, many long noncoding RNAs are processed to yield small RNAs or, conversely, modulate how other RNAs are processed. It is thus becoming increasingly clear that long noncoding RNAs can function via numerous paradigms and are key regulatory molecules in the cell.