Double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) is a danger signal that triggers endonucleolytic degradation of RNA inside infected and stressed mammalian cells. This mechanism inhibits growth and ultimately removes problematic cells via apoptosis. To elucidate the molecular functions of this program and understand the connection between RNA cleavage and programmed cell death, we visualized dsRNA-induced degradation of human small RNAs using RtcB ligase-assisted RNA sequencing (RtcB RNA-seq). RtcB RNA-seq revealed strong cleavage of select transfer RNAs (tRNAs) and autoantigenic Y-RNAs, and identified the innate immune receptor RNase L as the responsible endoribonuclease. RNase L cleaves the non-coding RNA (ncRNA) targets site-specifically, releasing abundant ncRNA fragments, and downregulating full-length tRNAs and Y-RNAs. The depletion of a single Y-RNA, RNY1, appears particularly important and the loss of this Y-RNA is sufficient to initiate apoptosis. Site-specific cleavage of small ncRNA by RNase L thus emerges as an important terminal step in dsRNA surveillance.