Recent findings suggest that components of the classical cell death machinery also have important non-cell-death (non-apoptotic) functions in flies, nematodes, and mammals. However, the mechanisms for non-canonical caspase substrate recognition and proteolysis, and the direct roles for caspases in gene expression regulation, remain largely unclear. Here we report that CED-3 caspase and the Arg/N-end rule pathway cooperate to inactivate the LIN-28 pluripotency factor in seam cells, a stem-like cell type in Caenorhabditis elegans, thereby ensuring proper temporal cell fate patterning. Importantly, the caspase and the E3 ligase execute this function in a non-additive manner. We show that CED-3 caspase and the E3 ubiquitin ligase UBR-1 form a complex that couples their in vivo activities, allowing for recognition and rapid degradation of LIN-28 and thus facilitating a switch in developmental programs. The interdependence of these proteolytic activities provides a paradigm for non-apoptotic caspase-mediated protein inactivation.