RNA ligases function pervasively across the three kingdoms of life for RNA repair, splicing and can be stress induced. The RtcB protein (also HSPC117, C22orf28, FAAP and D10Wsu52e) is one such conserved ligase, involved in tRNA and mRNA splicing. However, its physiological role is poorly described, especially in bacteria. We now show in Escherichia coli bacteria that the RtcR activated rtcAB genes function for ribosome homeostasis involving rRNA stability. Expression of rtcAB is activated by agents and genetic lesions which impair the translation apparatus or may cause oxidative damage in the cell. Rtc helps the cell to survive challenges to the translation apparatus, including ribosome targeting antibiotics. Further, loss of Rtc causes profound changes in chemotaxis and motility. Together, our data suggest that the Rtc system is part of a previously unrecognised adaptive response linking ribosome homeostasis with basic cell physiology and behaviour.