Progress has been made in our understanding of the mechanisms of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) proteostasis, ER stress and the unfolded protein response (UPR), as well as ER stress-induced autophagy, in the kidney. Experimental models have revealed that disruption of the UPR, including a protein that senses misfolded proteins (namely, inositol-requiring enzyme 1α) in mouse podocytes causes podocyte injury and albuminuria as mice age. Protein misfolding and ER stress are evident in various renal diseases, including primary glomerulonephritides, glomerulopathies associated with genetic mutations, diabetic nephropathy, acute kidney injury, chronic kidney disease and renal fibrosis. The induction of ER stress may be cytoprotective, or it may be cytotoxic by activating apoptosis. The UPR may interact in a coordinated manner with autophagy to alleviate protein misfolding and its consequences. Monitoring the excretion of ER chaperones into the urine can potentially serve as a biomarker of renal ER stress. In specific kidney diseases, the treatment of experimental animals with chemical chaperones that improve protein folding or with chaperone inducers has alleviated kidney injury. Given the limited availability of mechanism-based therapies for kidney diseases, normalization of ER stress using pharmacological agents represents a promising therapeutic approach towards preventing or arresting the progression of kidney disease.