Argonaute-bound microRNAs silence mRNA expression in a dynamic and regulated manner to control organismal development, physiology, and disease. We employed metabolic small RNA sequencing for a comprehensive view on intracellular microRNA kinetics in Drosophila. Based on absolute rate of biogenesis and decay, microRNAs rank among the fastest produced and longest-lived cellular transcripts, disposing up to 105 copies per cell at steady-state. Mature microRNAs are produced within minutes, revealing tight intracellular coupling of biogenesis that is selectively disrupted by pre-miRNA-uridylation. Control over Argonaute protein homeostasis generates a kinetic bottleneck that cooperates with non-coding RNA surveillance to ensure faithful microRNA loading. Finally, regulated small RNA decay enables the selective rapid turnover of Ago1-bound microRNAs, but not of Ago2-bound small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), reflecting key differences in the robustness of small RNA silencing pathways. Time-resolved small RNA sequencing opens new experimental avenues to deconvolute the timescales, molecular features, and regulation of small RNA silencing pathways in living cells.