Current guidelines identify people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) as being at high risk for cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. Because as many as 19 million Americans may have CKD, a comprehensive summary of this risk would be potentially useful for planning public health policy. A systematic review of the association between non-dialysis-dependent CKD and the risk for all-cause and cardiovascular mortality was conducted. Patient- and study-related characteristics that influenced the magnitude of these associations also were investigated. MEDLINE and EMBASE databases were searched, and reference lists through December 2004 were consulted. Authors of 10 primary studies provided additional data. Cohort studies or cohort analyses of randomized, controlled trials that compared mortality between those with and without chronically reduced kidney function were included. Studies were excluded from review when participants were followed for < 1 yr or had ESRD. Two reviewers independently extracted data on study setting, quality, participant and renal function characteristics, and outcomes. Thirty-nine studies that followed a total of 1,371,990 participants were reviewed. The unadjusted relative risk for mortality in participants with reduced kidney function compared with those without ranged from 0.94 to 5.0 and was significantly more than 1.0 in 93% of cohorts. Among the 16 studies that provided suitable data, the absolute risk for death increased exponentially with decreasing renal function. Fourteen cohorts described the risk for mortality from reduced kidney function, after adjustment for other established risk factors. Although adjusted relative hazards were consistently lower than unadjusted relative risks (median reduction 17%), they remained significantly more than 1.0 in 71% of cohorts. This review supports current guidelines that identify individuals with CKD as being at high risk for cardiovascular mortality. Determining which interventions best offset this risk remains a health priority.