The secretory capacity of a cell is constantly challenged by physiological demands and pathological perturbations. To adjust and match the protein-folding capacity of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) to changing secretory needs, cells employ a dynamic intracellular signaling pathway known as the unfolded protein response (UPR). Homeostatic activation of the UPR enforces adaptive programs that modulate and augment key aspects of the entire secretory pathway, whereas maladaptive UPR outputs trigger apoptosis. Here, we discuss recent advances into how the UPR integrates information about the intensity and duration of ER stress stimuli in order to control cell fate. These findings are timely and significant because they inform an evolving mechanistic understanding of a wide variety of human diseases, including diabetes mellitus, neurodegeneration, and cancer, thus opening up the potential for new therapeutic modalities to treat these diverse diseases.