BACKGROUND: Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a common and costly condition to treat. Economic evaluations of health care often incorporate patient preferences for health outcomes using utilities. The objective of this study was to determine pooled utility-based quality of life (the numerical value attached to the strength of an individual's preference for a specific health outcome) by CKD treatment modality. METHODS AND FINDINGS: We conducted a systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression of peer-reviewed published articles and of PhD dissertations published through 1 December 2010 that reported utility-based quality of life (utility) for adults with late-stage CKD. Studies reporting utilities by proxy (e.g., reported by a patient's doctor or family member) were excluded. In total, 190 studies reporting 326 utilities from over 56,000 patients were analysed. There were 25 utilities from pre-treatment CKD patients, 226 from dialysis patients (haemodialysis, n = 163; peritoneal dialysis, n = 44), 66 from kidney transplant patients, and three from patients treated with non-dialytic conservative care. Using time tradeoff as a referent instrument, kidney transplant recipients had a mean utility of 0.82 (95% CI: 0.74, 0.90). The mean utility was comparable in pre-treatment CKD patients (difference = -0.02; 95% CI: -0.09, 0.04), 0.11 lower in dialysis patients (95% CI: -0.15, -0.08), and 0.2 lower in conservative care patients (95% CI: -0.38, -0.01). Patients treated with automated peritoneal dialysis had a significantly higher mean utility (0.80) than those on continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (0.72; p = 0.02). The mean utility of transplant patients increased over time, from 0.66 in the 1980s to 0.85 in the 2000s, an increase of 0.19 (95% CI: 0.11, 0.26). Utility varied by elicitation instrument, with standard gamble producing the highest estimates, and the SF-6D by Brazier et al., University of Sheffield, producing the lowest estimates. The main limitations of this study were that treatment assignments were not random, that only transplant had longitudinal data available, and that we calculated EuroQol Group EQ-5D scores from SF-36 and SF-12 health survey data, and therefore the algorithms may not reflect EQ-5D scores measured directly. CONCLUSIONS: For patients with late-stage CKD, treatment with dialysis is associated with a significant decrement in quality of life compared to treatment with kidney transplantation. These findings provide evidence-based utility estimates to inform economic evaluations of kidney therapies, useful for policy makers and in individual treatment discussions with CKD patients.