Lymphocytes are unique among cells in that they undergo programmed DNA breaks and translocations, but that special property predisposes them to chromosomal instability (CIN), a cardinal feature of neoplastic lymphoid cells that manifests as whole chromosome- or translocation-based aneuploidy. In several lymphoid malignancies translocations may be the defining or diagnostic markers of the diseases. CIN is a cornerstone of the mutational architecture supporting lymphoid neoplasia, though it is perhaps one of the least understood components of malignant transformation in terms of its molecular mechanisms. CIN is associated with prognosis and response to treatment, making it a key area for impacting treatment outcomes and predicting prognoses. Here we will review the types and mechanisms of CIN found in Hodgkin lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma and the lymphoid leukaemias, with emphasis placed on pathogenic mutations affecting DNA recombination, replication and repair; telomere function; and mitotic regulation of spindle attachment, centrosome function, and chromosomal segregation. We will discuss the means by which chromosome-level genetic aberrations may give rise to multiple pathogenic mutations required for carcinogenesis and conclude with a discussion of the clinical applications of CIN and aneuploidy to diagnosis, prognosis and therapy.