Plant autophagy, one of the essential proteolysis systems, balances proteome and nutrient levels in cells of the whole plant. Autophagy has been studied by analysing Arabidopsis thaliana autophagy-defective atg mutants, but the relationship between autophagy and chlorophyll (Chl) breakdown during stress-induced leaf yellowing remains unclear. During natural senescence or under abiotic-stress conditions, extensive cell death and early yellowing occurs in the leaves of atg mutants. A new finding is revealed that atg5 and atg7 mutants exhibit a functional stay-green phenotype under mild abiotic-stress conditions, but leaf yellowing proceeds normally in wild-type leaves under these conditions. Under mild salt stress, atg5 leaves retained high levels of Chls and all photosystem proteins and maintained a normal chloroplast structure. Furthermore, a double mutant of atg5 and non-functional stay-green nonyellowing1-1 (atg5 nye1-1) showed a much stronger stay-green phenotype than either single mutant. Taking these results together, it is proposed that autophagy functions in the non-selective catabolism of Chls and photosynthetic proteins during stress-induced leaf yellowing, in addition to the selective degradation of Chl-apoprotein complexes in the chloroplasts through the senescence-induced STAY-GREEN1/NYE1 and Chl catabolic enzymes.