TCP uses multiple timers (at least conceptually) to do its work. The most important of these is the RTO (Retransmission TimeOut). When a segment is sent, a retransmission timer is started. If the segment is acknowledged before the timer expires, the timer is stopped. If, on the other hand, the timer goes off before the acknowledgement comes in, the segment is retransmitted (and the timer os started again).
The retransmission timer is also held to a minimum of 1 second, regardless of the estimates. This is a conservative value chosen to prevent spurious retransmissions based on measurements.
The retransmission timer is not the only timer TCP uses. A second timer is the persistence timer. It is designed to prevent the following deadlock. The receiver sends an acknowledgement with a window size of 0, telling the sender to wait. Later, the receiver updates the window, but the packet with the update is lost. Now the sender and the receiver are each waiting for the other to do something. When the persistence timer goes off, the sender transmits a probe to the receiver. The response to the probe gives the window size. If it is still 0, the persistence timer is set again and the cycle repeats. If it is nonzero, data can now be sent.
A third timer that some implementations use is the keepalive timer. When a connection has been idle for a long time, the keepalive timer may go off to cause one side to check whether the other side is still there. If it fails to respond, the connection is terminated. This feature is controversial because it adds overhead and may terminate an otherwise healthy connection due to a transient network partition.
The last timer used on each TCP connection is the one used in the TIME WAIT state while closing. It runs for twice the maximum packet lifetime to make sure that when a connection is closed; all packets created by it have died off.