rpsO mRNA, a small monocistronic mRNA that encodes ribosomal protein S15, was used to study aspects of mRNA decay initiation in Bacillus subtilis. Decay of rpsO mRNA in a panel of 3′-to-5′ exoribonuclease mutants was analyzed using a 5′-proximal oligonucleotide probe and a series of oligonucleotide probes that were complementary to overlapping sequences starting at the 3′ end. The results provided strong evidence that endonuclease cleavage in the body of the message, rather than degradation from the native 3′ end, is the rate-determining step for mRNA decay. Subsequent to endonuclease cleavage, the upstream products were degraded by polynucleotide phosphorylase (PNPase), and the downstream products were degraded by the 5′ exonuclease activity of RNase J1. The rpsO mRNA half-life was unchanged in a strain that had decreased RNase J1 activity and no RNase J2 activity, but it was 2.3-fold higher in a strain with decreased activity of RNase Y, a recently discovered RNase of B. subtilis encoded by the ymdA gene. Accumulation of full-length rpsO mRNA and its decay intermediates was analyzed using a construct in which the rpsO transcription unit was under control of a bacitracin-inducible promoter. The results were consistent with RNase Y-mediated initiation of decay. This is the first report of a specific mRNA whose stability is determined by RNase Y.