Subseafloor microbial activities are central to Earth’s biogeochemical cycles. They control Earth’s surface oxidation and major aspects of ocean chemistry. They affect climate on long timescales and play major roles in forming and destroying economic resources. In this review, we evaluate present understanding of subseafloor microbes and their activities, identify research gaps, and recommend approaches to filling those gaps. Our synthesis suggests that chemical diffusion rates and reaction affinities play a primary role in controlling rates of subseafloor activities. Fundamental aspects of subseafloor communities, including features that enable their persistence at low catabolic rates for millions of years, remain unknown.