Extremely low specific growth rates (below 0.01 h−1) represent a largely unexplored area of microbial physiology. In this study, anaerobic, glucose-limited retentostats were used to analyse physiological and genome-wide transcriptional responses of Saccharomyces cerevisiae to cultivation at near-zero specific growth rates. While quiescence is typically investigated as a result of carbon starvation, cells in retentostat are fed by small, but continuous carbon and energy supply. Yeast cells cultivated near-zero specific growth rates, while metabolically active, exhibited characteristics previously associated with quiescence, including accumulation of storage polymers and an increased expression of genes involved in exit from the cell cycle into G0. Unexpectedly, analysis of transcriptome data from retentostat and chemostat cultures showed, as specific growth rate was decreased, that quiescence-related transcriptional responses were already set in at specific growth rates above 0.025 h−1. These observations stress the need for systematic dissection of physiological responses to slow growth, quiescence, ageing and starvation and indicate that controlled cultivation systems such as retentostats can contribute to this goal. Furthermore, cells in retentostat do not (or hardly) divide while remaining metabolically active, which emulates the physiological status of metazoan post-mitotic cells. We propose retentostat as a powerful cultivation tool to investigate chronological ageing-related processes.