This is a major revision of a previous submission of the same name, paper number 680. We have completely rewritten sections 5 -- 7, giving a new construction of the first part of our functor. The main abstract is as follows: We give a new construction of the algebraic $K$-theory of small permutative categories that preserves multiplicative structure, and therefore allows us to give a unified treatment of rings, modules, and algebras in both the input and output. This requires us to define multiplicative structure on the category of small permutative categories. The framework we use is the concept of multicategory (elsewhere also called colored operad), a generalization of symmetric monoidal category that precisely captures the multiplicative structure we have present at all stages of the construction. Our method ends up in the Hovey-Shipley-Smith category of symmetric spectra, with an intermediate stop at a category of functors out of a particular wreath product.