Large-scale biogeographic patterns in marine systems are considerably less well documented and understood than those in terrestrial systems. Here, we synthesize recent evidence on latitudinal and bathymetric gradients of species diversity in benthic mollusks, one of the most diverse and intensively studied marine taxa. Latitudinal gradients in coastal faunas show poleward declines in diversity, but the patterns are highly asymmetrical between hemispheres, and irregular both within and among regions. The extensive fossil record of mollusks reveals that latitudinal gradients have become steeper during the Neogene, partly because of a rapid diversification in tropical coral reefs and their associated biotas. Much of the inter-regional variation in contemporary latitudinal trends depends on the longitudinal distribution of reefs and major Neogene vicariant events. Thus, coastal faunas reveal a strong evolutionary–historical legacy. Bathymetric and latitudinal gradients in the deep ocean suggest that molluscan diversity is a function of the rate of nutrient input from surface production. Diversity may be depressed at abyssal depths because of extremely low rates of organic carbon flux, and at upper bathyal depths and high latitudes by pulsed nutrient loading. While the deep-sea environment is not conducive to fossilization, relationships between local and regional diversity, and the distribution and age of higher taxa indicate an evolutionary signal in present-day diversity gradients. Marine invertebrate communities offer tremendous potential to determine the relative importance of history and ecological opportunity in shaping large-scale patterns of species diversity.