Bowie's death was confirmed by his son, Duncan Jones, who tweeted, "Very sorry and sad to say it's true. I'll be offline for a while. Love to all."
The singer released his latest album, Blackstar, on his birthday on Friday. The New York Times described the album as "typically enigmatic and exploratory."
In a career that spanned decades and incorporated various personas, including Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke, Bowie was known for his innovative and wide-ranging musical styles and his highly theatrical stage presentation.
John Covach, director of the Institute for Popular Music at the University of Rochester, highlighted Bowie's influence on rock in the 1970s, singling out the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust for the "Ziggy Stardust" persona that Bowie adopted.
"Jim Morrison had flirted with the persona of the Lizard King already in the late 1960s, and the donning of a persona in UK pop singing could be traced back at least to Screaming Lord Sutch in the early to mid 1960s. Like Alice Cooper and Peter Gabriel at about the same time, Bowie's performances became theatrical in ways that focused on the persona, and these shows took rock performance to new production levels, with greater emphasis on staging and costumes.
"Bowie's creative and performing persona would change from album to album and from tour to tour, permitting him to transform his music in ways that fans might not have embraced in other artists (Madonna would adopt a similar strategy beginning in the 1980s)."
"Mr. Bowie was his generation's standard-bearer for rock as theater: something constructed and inflated yet sincere in its artifice, saying more than naturalism could. With a voice that dipped down to baritone and leaped into falsetto, he was complexly androgynous, an explorer of human impulses that could not be quantified.
"He also pushed the limits of 'Fashion' and 'Fame,' writing songs with those titles and also thinking deeply about the possibilities and strictures of pop renown."
Bowie's popularity hit another peak in the '80s with the release of Let's Dance. Hit singles from that album included the title track as well as "Modern Love" and "China Girl."
In addition to his musical career, Bowie was an actor, appearing in films including The Man Who Fell to Earth and Labyrinth.
Bowie is survived by two children and his wife, the model Iman.