Mechanical ventilation (MV) remains the cornerstone of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) management. It guarantees sufficient alveolar ventilation, high FiO2 concentration, and high positive end-expiratory pressure levels. However, experimental and clinical studies have accumulated, demonstrating that MV also contributes to the high mortality observed in patients with ARDS by creating ventilator-induced lung injury. Under these circumstances, extracorporeal lung support (ECLS) may be beneficial in two distinct clinical settings: to rescue patients from the high risk for death associated with severe hypoxemia, hypercapnia, or both not responding to maximized conventional MV, and to replace MV and minimize/abolish the harmful effects of ventilator-induced lung injury. High extracorporeal blood flow venovenous extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) may therefore rescue the sickest patients with ARDS from the high risk for death associated with severe hypoxemia, hypercapnia, or both not responding to maximized conventional MV. Successful venovenous ECMO treatment in patients with extremely severe H1N1-associated ARDS and positive results of the CESAR trial have led to an exponential use of the technology in recent years. Alternatively, lower-flow extracorporeal CO2 removal devices may be used to reduce the intensity of MV (by reducing Vt from 6 to 3-4 ml/kg) and to minimize or even abolish the harmful effects of ventilator-induced lung injury if used as an alternative to conventional MV in nonintubated, nonsedated, and spontaneously breathing patients. Although conceptually very attractive, the use of ECLS in patients with ARDS remains controversial, and high-quality research is needed to further advance our knowledge in the field.