Following a standard heat shock, ~40% of Hsp70 transcripts in Drosophila melanogaster lack a poly(A) tail. Since heat shock disrupts other aspects of RNA processing, this observation suggested that heat might disrupt polyadenylation as well. We find, however, that as the temperature is increased a larger fraction of Hsp70 RNA is polyadenylated. Poly(A)-deficient Hsp70 RNAs arise not from a failure in polyadenylation but from the rapid and selective removal of poly(A) from previously adenylated transcripts. Poly(A) removal is highly regulated: poly(A) is (i) removed much more rapidly from Hsp70 RNAs than from Hsp23 RNAs, (ii) removed more rapidly after mild heat shocks than after severe heat shocks, and (iii) removed more rapidly after a severe heat shock if cells have first been conditioned by a mild heat treatment. Poly(A) seems to be removed by simple deadenylation rather than by endonucleolytic cleavage 5' of the adenylation site. During recovery from heat shock, deadenylation is rapidly followed by degradation. In cells maintained at high temperatures, however, the two processes are uncoupled and Hsp70 RNAs are deadenylated without being degraded. These deadenylated mRNAs are translated with low efficiency. Deadenylation therefore allows Hsp70 synthesis to be repressed even when degradation of the mRNA is blocked. Poly(A) tail shortening appears to play a key role in regulating Hsp70 expression.