How bacteria coordinate cell growth with division is not well understood. Bacterial cell elongation is controlled by actin–MreB while cell division is governed by tubulin–FtsZ. A ring-like structure containing FtsZ (the Z ring) at mid-cell attracts other cell division proteins to form the divisome, an essential protein assembly required for septum synthesis and cell separation. The Z ring exists at mid-cell during a major part of the cell cycle without contracting. Here, we show that MreB and FtsZ of Escherichia coli interact directly and that this interaction is required for Z ring contraction. We further show that the MreB–FtsZ interaction is required for transfer of cell-wall biosynthetic enzymes from the lateral to the mature divisome, allowing cells to synthesise the septum. Our observations show that bacterial cell division is coupled to cell elongation via a direct and essential interaction between FtsZ and MreB.