How organisms adapt to new environments is of fundamental biological interest, but poorly understood at the genetic level. Chemosensory systems provide attractive models to address this problem, because they lie between external environmental signals and internal physiological responses. To investigate how selection has shaped the well-characterized chemosensory system of Drosophila melanogaster, we have analysed genome-wide data from five diverse populations. By couching population genomic analyses of chemosensory protein families within parallel analyses of other large families, we demonstrate that chemosensory proteins are not outliers for adaptive divergence between species. However, chemosensory families often display the strongest genome-wide signals of recent selection within D. melanogaster. We show that recent adaptation has operated almost exclusively on standing variation, and that patterns of adaptive mutations predict diverse effects on protein function. Finally, we provide evidence that chemosensory proteins have experienced relaxed constraint, and argue that this has been important for their rapid adaptation over short timescales.