The multiple functions of the p97/Cdc48p ATPase can be explained largely by adaptors that link its activity to different cellular pathways, but how these adaptors recognize different substrates is unclear. Here we present evidence that the mammalian adaptors, p47 and Ufd1–Npl4, both bind ubiquitin conjugates directly and so link p97 to ubiquitylated substrates. In the case of Ufd1–Npl4, which is involved in endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-associated degradation and nuclear envelope reassembly, binding to ubiquitin is mediated through a putative zinc finger in Npl4. This novel domain (NZF) is conserved in metazoa and is both present and functional in other proteins. In the case of p47, which is involved in the reassembly of the ER, the nuclear envelope and the Golgi apparatus, binding is mediated by a UBA domain. Unlike Ufd1–Npl4, it binds ubiquitin only when complexed with p97, and binds mono- rather than polyubiquitin conjugates. The UBA domain is required for the function of p47 in mitotic Golgi reassembly. Together, these data suggest that ubiquitin recognition is a common feature of p97-mediated reactions.