Microvesicles (MVs) are extracellular vesicles released by virtually all cells, under both physiological and pathological conditions. They contain lipids, proteins, RNAs and microRNAs and act as vectors of information that regulate the function of target cells. This Review provides an overview of the studies assessing circulating MV levels in patients with liver diseases, together with an insight into the mechanisms that could account for these changes. We also present a detailed analysis of the implication of MVs in key processes of liver diseases. MVs have a dual role in fibrosis as certain types of MVs promote fibrolysis by increasing expression of matrix metalloproteinases, whereas others promote fibrosis by stimulating processes such as angiogenesis. MVs probably enhance portal hypertension by contributing to intrahepatic vasoconstriction, splanchnic vasodilation and angiogenesis. As MVs can modulate vascular permeability, vascular tone and angiogenesis, they might contribute to several complications of cirrhosis including hepatic encephalopathy, hepatopulmonary syndrome and hepatorenal syndrome. Several results also suggest that MVs have a role in hepatocellular carcinoma. Although MVs represent promising biomarkers in patients with liver disease, methods of isolation and subsequent analysis must be standardized.