The relationship between autophagic cell death and apoptosis is a poorly understood aspect of programmed cell death (PCD). We have examined this relationship by studying the elimination of an extra-embryonic tissue, known as the amnioserosa (AS), during Drosophila development. The AS becomes autophagic during the final stages of embryogenesis; ultimately, however, the elimination of the AS involves caspase-dependent nuclear fragmentation, tissue dissociation and engulfment by phagocytic macrophages. Mutants that are defective in the activation or execution of caspase-dependent PCD fail to degrade and eliminate the AS but show no abatement in AS autophagy. Sustained autophagy does not, therefore, necessarily result in cell death. Surprisingly, the downregulation of autophagy also results in a persistent AS phenotype and reduced cell death. Conversely, upregulation of autophagy results in caspase-dependent premature AS dissociation. These observations are consistent with the interpretation that autophagy is a prerequisite for caspase-dependent cell death in the AS.