Modern geochronology has moved beyond the acquisition of dates: the goal is to understand the significance of these numbers for the geodynamic evolution of Earth at all scales. The coupling of the laser-ablation microprobe (LAM) to inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometers (ICPMS, multicollector (MC)-ICPMS) has revolutionised geochronology and geochemistry over the last 10 years. These systems enable the rapid and precise in situ analysis of trace-element patterns and isotopic systems, while adding information related to microstructural context and major-element composition. The integration of these multiple sources of data is crucial in constraining the origin of the sample and the processes leading to its formation, so that we can understand the meaning of a date in terms of geological events. LAM-ICPMS measurement of U-Pb ages and trace-element patterns in zircon, coupled with LAM-MC-ICPMS analysis of Hf isotopes in the same grains, gives new insights into the processes of magma genesis. Applied to detrital zircons from modern drainages or sedimentary rocks (the TerraneChron® approach), it becomes a powerful tool to investigate problems of crustal evolution on scales ranging from single terranes to continents. The in situ analysis (LAM-MC-ICPMS) of Re-Os systematics in single grains of sulfides in mantle-derived peridotites has demonstrated that most mantle rocks contain several generations of Os-bearing sulfides; whole-rock analyses are mixtures reflecting multiple melting and metasomatic events in the lithospheric mantle. These deep-seated events are commonly mirrored in the crust; Os model-age spectra from xenolith suites show age 'peaks' that correspond to the ages of thermal/ tectonic events in the overlying crust, suggesting strong linkages between crust and mantle. Integrated studies of the timing and nature of crustal and mantle events, using these techniques, will be important for understanding the large-scale dynamics of the Earth.