BACKGROUND: Although seasonal variations in mortality have been recognized for millennia, the role of temperature remains unclear. We aimed to assess seasonal variation in mortality and to examine the contribution of temperature. METHODS: We compiled daily data on all-cause, cardiovascular and respiratory mortality, temperature and indicators on location-specific characteristics from 719 locations in tropical, dry, temperate and continental climate zones. We fitted time-series regression models to estimate the amplitude of seasonal variation in mortality on a daily basis, defined as the peak-to-trough ratio (PTR) of maximum mortality estimates to minimum mortality estimates at day of year. Meta-analysis was used to summarize location-specific estimates for each climate zone. We estimated the PTR with and without temperature adjustment, with the differences representing the seasonal effect attributable to temperature. We also evaluated the effect of location-specific characteristics on the PTR across locations by using meta-regression models. RESULTS: Seasonality estimates and responses to temperature adjustment varied across locations. The unadjusted PTR for all-cause mortality was 1.05 [95% confidence interval (CI): 1.00-1.11] in the tropical zone and 1.23 (95% CI: 1.20-1.25) in the temperate zone; adjusting for temperature reduced the estimates to 1.02 (95% CI: 0.95-1.09) and 1.10 (95% CI: 1.07-1.12), respectively. Furthermore, the unadjusted PTR was positively associated with average mean temperature. CONCLUSIONS: This study suggests that seasonality of mortality is importantly driven by temperature, most evidently in temperate/continental climate zones, and that warmer locations show stronger seasonal variations in mortality, which is related to a stronger effect of temperature.