Linking marine epizootics to a specific aetiology is notoriously difficult. Recent diagnostic successes show that marine disease diagnosis requires both modern, cutting-edge technology (e.g. metagenomics, quantitative real-time PCR) and more classic methods (e.g. transect surveys, histopathology and cell culture). Here, we discuss how this combination of traditional and modern approaches is necessary for rapid and accurate identification of marine diseases, and emphasize how sole reliance on any one technology or technique may lead disease investigations astray. We present diagnostic approaches at different scales, from the macro (environment, community, population and organismal scales) to the micro (tissue, organ, cell and genomic scales). We use disease case studies from a broad range of taxa to illustrate diagnostic successes from combining traditional and modern diagnostic methods. Finally, we recognize the need for increased capacity of centralized databases, networks, data repositories and contingency plans for diagnosis and management of marine disease.