Recent advances in understanding molecular and physiological mechanisms of abiotic stress responses, along with breakthroughs in molecular marker technologies, have enabled the dissection of the complex traits underlying stress tolerance in crop plants. Quantitative trait loci (QTLs) controlling different abiotic stress traits form the basis for a precise marker-assisted backcrossing (MABC) strategy to rapidly transfer tolerance loci into high-yielding, but stress-sensitive varieties. Case studies are presented to demonstrate the progress and potential for MABC programs to develop rice varieties with increased tolerance to flooding, salinity, phosphorus deficiency and drought, amongst others. Future opportunities exist for employing association genetics for more efficient allele mining for abiotic stress tolerance from germplasm collections, as well as leveraging the power of bioinformatics and genomics data for more efficient trait dissection and use in breeding. Plant breeders now have a wealth of information and tools available to tackle these serious constraints posed by abiotic stresses, with the promise of delivering stable, high yielding varieties, able to thrive in the increasingly degrading soils and the ominously changing environment.