The extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) signaling pathway regulates a variety of biological processes including cell proliferation, survival, and differentiation. Since ERK activation promotes proliferation of many types of cells, its deregulated/constitutive activation is among general mechanisms for cancer. Recent advances in bioimaging techniques have enabled to visualize ERK activity in real-time at the single-cell level. Emerging evidence from such approaches suggests unexpectedly complex spatiotemporal dynamics of ERK activity in living cells and animals and their crucial roles in determining cellular responses. In this review, we discuss how ERK activity dynamics are regulated and how they affect biological processes including cell fate decisions, cell migration, embryonic development, tissue homeostasis, and tumorigenesis.