The ubiquitin-proteasome pathway (UPP) and autophagy play integral roles in cellular homeostasis. As part of their normal life cycle, most proteins undergo ubiquitination for some form of redistribution, localization and/or functional modulation. However, ubiquitination is also important to the UPP and several autophagic processes. The UPP is initiated after specific lysine residues of short-lived, damaged or misfolded proteins are conjugated to ubiquitin, which targets these proteins to proteasomes. Autophagy is the endosomal/lysosomal-dependent degradation of organelles, invading microbes, zymogen granules and macromolecules such as protein, carbohydrates and lipids. Autophagy can be broadly separated into three distinct subtypes termed microautophagy, chaperone-mediated autophagy and macroautophagy. Although autophagy was once thought of as non-selective bulk degradation, advancements in the field have led to the discovery of several selective forms of autophagy. Here, we focus on the mechanisms of primary and selective mammalian autophagy pathways and highlight the current knowledge gaps in these molecular pathways.