Rabies is a major public health problem in Bangladesh, where most of the population live in rural areas. However, there is little epidemiological information on rabies in rural Bangladesh. This study was conducted in 30 upazilas (subdistricts) covering all six divisions of the country, to determine the levels of rabies and animal bites in Bangladesh. The total population of these upazilas was 6 992 302. A pretested questionnaire was used and data were collected by interviewing the adult members of families. We estimated that in Bangladesh, 166 590 [95% confidence interval (CI) 163 350–170 550] people per year are bitten by an animal. The annual incidence of rabies deaths in Bangladesh was estimated to be 1·40 (95% CI 1·05–1·78)/100 000 population. By extrapolating this, we estimated that 2100 (95% CI 1575–2670) people die annually from rabies in Bangladesh. More than three-quarters of rabies patients died at home. This community-based study provides new information on rabies epidemiology in Bangladesh.