A nanoarchitectural approach based on in situ formation of quantum dots (QDs) within/outside clay nanotubes was developed. Efficient and stable photocatalysts active under visible light were achieved with ruthenium-doped cadmium sulfide QDs templated on the surface of azine-modified halloysite nanotubes. The catalytic activity was tested in the hydrogen evolution reaction in aqueous electrolyte solutions under visible light. Ru doping enhanced the photocatalytic activity of CdS QDs thanks to better light absorption and electron–hole pair separation due to formation of a metal/semiconductor heterojunction. The S/Cd ratio was the major factor for the formation of stable nanoparticles on the surface of the azine-modified clay. A quantum yield of 9.3 % was reached by using Ru/CdS/halloysite containing 5.2 wt % of Cd doped with 0.1 wt % of Ru and an S/Cd ratio of unity. In vivo and in vitro studies on the CdS/halloysite hybrid demonstrated the absence of toxic effects in eukaryotic cells and nematodes in short-term tests, and thus they are promising photosensitive materials for multiple applications.