Behind the versatile nature of prokaryotic energy metabolism is a set of redox proteins having a highly modular character. It has become increasingly recognized that a limited number of redox modules or building blocks appear grouped in different arrangements, giving rise to different proteins and functionalities. This modularity most likely reveals a common and ancient origin for these redox modules, and is obviously reflected in similar energy conservation mechanisms. The dissimilation of sulfur compounds was probably one of the earliest biological strategies used by primitive organisms to obtain energy. Here, we review some of the redox proteins involved in dissimilatory sulfur metabolism, focusing on sulfate reducing organisms, and highlight links between these proteins and others involved in different processes of anaerobic respiration. Noteworthy are links to the complex iron-sulfur molybdoenzyme family, and heterodisulfide reductases of methanogenic archaea. We discuss how chemiosmotic and electron bifurcation/confurcation may be involved in energy conservation during sulfate reduction, and how introduction of an additional module, multiheme cytochromes c, opens an alternative bioenergetic strategy that seems to increase metabolic versatility. Finally, we highlight new families of heterodisulfide reductase-related proteins from non-methanogenic organisms, which indicate a widespread distribution for these protein modules and may indicate a more general involvement of thiol/disulfide conversions in energy metabolism. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: The evolutionary aspects of bioenergetic systems. (C) 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.