He studied at the University of Pavia as a pupil of G. Bizzozero, and after receiving his degree practiced medicine for a time at Abbiategrasso.
In 1875 he was named professor extraordinary of histology at the University of Pavia. In 1881 he was made professor of general pathology at Pavia. In 1873 he became the first to use the chrome-silver-salts method of coloring; by this means he discovered the structure of the brain and spinal cord and the cells that bear his name. Golgi identified three varieties of malaria parasites and demonstrated the fundamental difference between pernicious malaria and the tertian and quartan intermittent fevers. He discovered the Golgi corpuscles or tendon-spindules and Golgi's funnels. For their researches on the nervous system he and Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Spanish histologist, shared the 1906 Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine.