The Colombian Nobel laureate's novels and short stories exposed tens of millions of readers to Latin America's passion, superstition, violence and inequality.
Widely considered the most popular Spanish-language writer since Miguel de Cervantes in the 17th century, Garcia Marquez achieved literary celebrity which spawned comparisons to Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.
He died in Mexico City after suffering poor recent health.
His flamboyant and melancholy fictional works - among them Chronicle Of A Death Foretold, Love In The Time Of Cholera and Autumn Of The Patriarch - outsold everything published in Spanish except the Bible.
The epic 1967 novel One Hundred Years Of Solitude sold more than 50 million copies in more than 25 languages.
His stories made him literature's best-known practitioner of magical realism, the fictional blending of the everyday with fantastical elements such as a boy born with a pig's tail and a man trailed by a swarm of yellow butterflies.
One Hundred Years Of Solitude was "the first novel in which Latin Americans recognised themselves, that defined them, celebrated their passion, their intensity, their spirituality and superstition, their grand propensity for failure", biographer Gerald Martin said.
When he accepted the Nobel prize for literature in 1982, Garcia Marquez described Latin America as a "source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cipher more, singled out by fortune. Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable."
With writers including Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe, Garcia Marquez was also an early practitioner of the literary non-fiction that would become known as New Journalism. He became an elder statesman of Latin American journalism, with magisterial works of narrative non-fiction that included the Story Of A Shipwrecked Sailor, the tale of a seaman lost on a liferaft for 10 days.
"I have often been told by the family that I started recounting things, stories and so on, almost since I was born," Garcia Marquez once told an interviewer. "Ever since I could speak."
Garcia Marquez's parents continued to have children, and barely made ends meet. Their first-born son was sent to a state-run boarding school just outside Bogota where he became a star student and voracious reader, favouring Hemingway, Faulkner, Dostoevsky and Kafka.
Garcia Marquez published his first piece of fiction as a student in 1947, mailing a short story to the newspaper El Espectador after its literary editor wrote that "Colombia's younger generation has nothing to offer in the way of good literature anymore".
His father insisted he study law but he dropped out, bored, and dedicated himself to journalism. The pay was atrocious and Garcia Marquez recalled his mother visiting him in Bogota and commenting in horror at his bedraggled appearance that: "I thought you were a beggar."