We show on general theoretical grounds that the two ends of single-stranded (ss) RNA molecules (consisting of roughly equal proportions of A, C, G and U) are necessarily close together, largely independent of their length and sequence. This is demonstrated to be a direct consequence of two generic properties of the equilibrium secondary structures, namely that the average proportion of bases in pairs is similar to 60% and that the average duplex length is similar to 4. Based on mfold and Vienna computations on large numbers of ssRNAs of various lengths (1000-10 000 nt) and sequences (both random and biological), we find that the 5'-3' distance-defined as the sum of H-bond and covalent (ss) links separating the ends of the RNA chain-is small, averaging 15-20 for each set of viral sequences tested. For random sequences this distance is similar to 12, consistent with the theory. We discuss the relevance of these results to evolved sequence complementarity and specific protein binding effects that are known to be important for keeping the two ends of viral and messenger RNAs in close proximity. Finally we speculate on how our conclusions imply indistinguishability in size and shape of equilibrated forms of linear and covalently circularized ssRNA molecules.