The large variety of 2D materials and their co-integration in van der Waals heterostructures enable innovative device engineering. In addition, their atomically thin nature promotes the design of artificial materials by proximity effects that originate from short-range interactions. Such a designer approach is particularly compelling for spintronics, which typically harnesses functionalities from thin layers of magnetic and non-magnetic materials and the interfaces between them. Here we provide an overview of recent progress in 2D spintronics and opto-spintronics using van der Waals heterostructures. After an introduction to the forefront of spin transport research, we highlight the unique spin-related phenomena arising from spin–orbit and magnetic proximity effects. We further describe the ability to create multifunctional hybrid heterostructures based on van der Waals materials, combining spin, valley and excitonic degrees of freedom. We end with an outlook on perspectives and challenges for the design and production of ultracompact all-2D spin devices and their potential applications in conventional and quantum technologies.