End-stage renal disease (ESRD) in diabetes is a life threatening complication resulting in a poor prognosis for patients as well as high medical costs. The aims of this systematic review were (1) to evaluate the incidence of ESRD due to all causes and due to diabetic nephropathy in the diabetic population and differences between incidences of ESRD with respect to sex, ethnicity, age and regions, (2) to compare incidence rates in the diabetic and non-diabetic population, and (3) to investigate time trends. The systematic review was conducted according to the PRISMA group guidelines by performing systematic literature searches in the biomedical databases until January 3rd 2015; thirty-two studies were included. Among patients with incident type 1 diabetes the 30-year cumulative incidence ranged from 3.3% to 7.8%. Among patients with prevalent diabetes, incidence rates of ESRD due to all causes ranged from 132.0 to 167.0 per 100,000 person-years, whereas incidence rates of ESRD due to diabetic nephropathy varied from 38.4 to 804.0 per 100,000 person-years. The incidence of ESRD in the diabetic population was higher compared to the non-diabetic population, and relative risks varied from 6.2 in the white population to 62.0 among Native Americans. The results regarding time trends were inconsistent. The review conducted demonstrates the considerable variation of incidences of ESRD among the diabetic population. Consistent findings included an excess risk when comparing the diabetic to the non-diabetic population and ethnic differences. We recommend that newly designed studies should use standardized methods for the determination of ESRD and population at risk.