In 1980 they enlisted singer Milo Aukerman and reappeared as a punk band, firmly entrenched within the hardcore scene developing in Los Angeles at the time. Their first release, 1981's Fat EP, was a furious six-minute barrage of teen angst and goofball humour, featuring such songs as "My Dad Sucks" and "I Like Food". Their debut album the following year, Milo Goes to College, introduced an element of melody and sensitivity that set them apart from most other hardcore bands. Songwriting was shared among the band members and Stevenson's songs in particular were to greatly influence the melodic punk-pop bands of the '90s.
Milo Aukerman really was off to college, to embark on an education that would take him as far as a doctorate in biochemistry, while Bill Stevenson became for a while the drummer with fellow hardcore punks Black Flag. The band did not record again until 1985 with the album I Don't Want to Grow Up. This, and the subsequent albums, Enjoy (1986) and All (1987), saw the band playing a slower and less angry style of rock music with less impact than the debut album, although songs like "Coolidge" still packed an emotional punch. There were also several lineup changes over this period: bassist Lombardo was replaced first by Doug Carrion and then Karl Alvarez, while guitarist Navetta was replaced by Ray Cooper and then Stephen Egerton.
The band finally disbanded in 1987 to be replaced by All, who continued the legacy of the Descendents. They reformed with Milo Aukerman in 1996 to record and tour the album Everything Sucks, a return to their early-80s punk style, and are now rumoured to be working on a new album.