Background Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) have been considered diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers for urothelial cancer. However, the prognostic role of CTCs in bladder cancer (BC) remains controversial. Here, we conducted a meta-analysis to evaluate the prognostic significance of CTCs for patients with BC. Methods All studies relevant to this topic were searched in the PubMed, Embase, and Web of Science databases. The hazard ratio (HR) and 95% confidence interval (95% CI) were set as effect measures. The outcomes were overall survival (OS), cancer-free survival (CSS), progression-free survival (PFS)/time to progression (TTP), and disease-free survival (DFS)/recurrence-free survival (RFS)/time to first recurrence (TFR). All analyses were conducted in STATA 15.1. Results Eleven eligible studies comprising 1,062 patients with BC were included in this meta-analysis. Overall analyses showed that CTC-positive patients had poorer survival (OS: HR 3.88, 95% CI 2.52-5.96, p < 0.001; CSS: HR 3.89, 95% CI 2.15-7.04, p < 0.001) and more aggressive progression (PFS/TTP: HR 5.92, 95% CI 3.75-9.35, p < 0.001; DFS/RFS/TFR: HR 4.57, 95% CI 3.34-6.25, p < 0.001) than CTC-negative patients. Subgroup analyses according to the number of patients, detection method, positivity rate, and follow-up time revealed that the presence of CTCs predicted a high risk of mortality and disease progression in most subgroups. Conclusion The meta-analysis confirmed that CTCs are a promising prognostic biomarker of poor survival and aggressive tumor progression for patients with BC.