Maintenance of genome integrity is a fundamental requirement of all organisms. To address this, organisms have evolved extremely faithful modes of replication, DNA repair and chromosome segregation to combat the deleterious effects of an unstable genome. Nonetheless, a small amount of genome instability is the driver of evolutionary change and adaptation, and thus a low level of instability is permitted in populations. While defects in genome maintenance almost invariably reduce fitness in the short term, they can create an environment where beneficial mutations are more likely to occur. The importance of this fact is clearest in the development of human cancer, where genome instability is a well-established enabling characteristic of carcinogenesis. This raises the crucial question: what are the cellular pathways that promote genome maintenance and what are their mechanisms? Work in model organisms, in particular the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, has provided the global foundations of genome maintenance mechanisms in eukaryotes. The development of pioneering genomic tools in S. cerevisiae, such as the systematic creation of mutants in all nonessential and essential genes, has enabled whole-genome approaches to identifying genes with roles in genome maintenance. Here, we review the extensive whole-genome approaches taken in yeast, with an emphasis on functional genomic screens, to understand the genetic basis of genome instability, highlighting a range of genetic and cytological screening modalities. By revealing the biological pathways and processes regulating genome integrity, these analyses contribute to the systems-level map of the yeast cell and inform studies of human disease, especially cancer.