Commensal and pathogenic microorganisms must resist the deleterious actions of bile in order to survive in the human gastrointestinal tract. Herein we review the current knowledge on the mechanisms by which Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria contend with bile stress. We describe the antimicrobial actions of bile, assess the variations in bile tolerance between bacterial genera and examine the interplay between bile stress and other stresses. The molecular mechanisms underlying bile tolerance are investigated and the relationship between bile and virulence is examined. Finally, the potential benefits of bile research are briefly discussed.