Global patterns of species richness and their structuring forces have fascinated biologists since Darwin and provide critical context for contemporary studies in ecology, evolution and conservation. Anthropogenic impacts and the need for systematic conservation planning have further motivated the analysis of diversity patterns and processes at regional to global scales. Whereas land diversity patterns and their predictors are known for numerous taxa, our understanding of global marine diversity has been more limited, with recent findings revealing some striking contrasts to widely held terrestrial paradigms. Here we examine global patterns and predictors of species richness across 13 major species groups ranging from zooplankton to marine mammals. Two major patterns emerged: coastal species showed maximum diversity in the Western Pacific, whereas oceanic groups consistently peaked across broad mid-latitudinal bands in all oceans. Spatial regression analyses revealed sea surface temperature as the only environmental predictor highly related to diversity across all 13 taxa. Habitat availability and historical factors were also important for coastal species, whereas other predictors had less significance. Areas of high species richness were disproportionately concentrated in regions with medium or higher human impacts. Our findings indicate a fundamental role of temperature or kinetic energy in structuring cross-taxon marine biodiversity, and indicate that changes in ocean temperature, in conjunction with other human impacts, may ultimately rearrange the global distribution of life in the ocean.