Members from earlier Buffalo-area death metal bands Beyond Death (Alex Webster, Jack Owen), Tirant Sin (Paul Mazurkiewicz, Chris Barnes, Bob Rusay), and Leviathan (Barnes) established the band in December 1988. The band played its first show at Buffalo's River Rock Cafe in March 1989, shortly after recording a five-song demo tape, Cannibal Corpse. Within a year of the first gig, the band was signed to Metal Blade Records, apparently after the label had heard the demo tape that the manager of the record store at which Barnes was working sent in. Their full-length debut album, Eaten Back to Life, was released in August 1990.
The band has had several lineup changes. In 1993, founding member and lead guitarist Bob Rusay was dismissed from the group (after which he became a golf instructor) and was ultimately replaced by Malevolent Creation guitarist Rob Barrett. In 1995, during recording sessions for a new album, singer Chris Barnes was dismissed because of personal differences with the rest of the band and was replaced by Monstrosity singer George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher. Barnes went on to perform with the band Six Feet Under and, later, Torture Killer.
In 1997, Barrett, who had replaced Rusay on lead guitar, left Cannibal Corpse to rejoin his previous bands Malevolent Creation and Solstice. Pat O'Brien, who first appeared on Cannibal Corpse's 1998 release Gallery of Suicide, replaced Barrett. Founding member and rhythm guitarist Jack Owen left Cannibal Corpse in 2004 to spend more time on his second band, Adrift. He joined Deicide in late 2004. Jeremy Turner of Origin briefly replaced him as rhythm guitarist on 2004's Tour of The Wretched Spawn. Barrett rejoined the band in 2005, this time as rhythm guitarist.
Writing for the follow-up to Kill (2006) began in November 2007, as indicated in an interview with bassist Alex Webster. Evisceration Plague, Cannibal Corpse's eleventh studio album was released February 3, 2009, to a highly positive response from fans. They also released a live DVD in 2011 entitled Global Evisceration. Cannibal Corpse released its twelfth studio album, Torture, in March 2012.
In February 2014, Cannibal Corpse announced that they had begun recording their thirteenth album, A Skeletal Domain, which was released on September 16. "Sadistic Embodiment" was released as a single in July, and all of the names of the songs on the forthcoming album were announced the same day. The same month, Metal Blade announced the publication of the band's authorized biography Bible Of Butchery, written by the British author Joel McIver.
In an August 2016 interview, drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz stated that Cannibal Corpse would likely begin recording a new album in 2017. In September 2017, the band announced their fourteenth studio album Red Before Black, which was released on November 3.
On December 10, 2018, lead guitarist Pat O'Brien was arrested for assault and battery; his bail was set at $50,000. On the eve of the news of his arrest, Cannibal Corpse was announced as one of the supporting acts for Slayer's final North American tour, which will take place in the spring of 2019 and also be supported by Lamb of God and Amon Amarth. On January 18, 2019, Cannibal Corpse announced that Hate Eternal frontman and former Morbid Angel guitarist Erik Rutan would fill-in for O'Brien on their future tours.