The 34-year-old Manchester United defender made his debut in 1997, and had represented his country at three World Cups.
But the latter years of his international career were dogged by bitterness and controversy, following a falling out with fellow central defender John Terry and his strained relationship with manager Roy Hodgson.
Hodgson said, however, that he had been grateful for a phone call from Ferdinand to explain his decision.
"It is important to pay tribute to someone of Rio’s stature and the achievements he had in a senior international career with England over 14 years at the highest level," Hodgson said.
"To have captained his country, to play at three World Cups and indeed score in one of those, marks him out amongst a very special group of players.
"I appreciated the call from Rio to inform me of his decision, which clearly he had spent much time considering before reaching this point.
Ferdinand is out of contract with Manchester United in the summer but is optimistic of penning a new deal at Old Trafford in the coming weeks.
He has not played for his country since June 2011. He was famously left out of Hodgson's Euro 2012 squad for 'football reasons', though it came against the backdrop of Terry's court case for a racially aggravated public order offence against his brother Anton.
Impressive form for his club earned Ferdinand an England recall in March - but the defender dropped out of the squad for the two World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro, and upset some fans by flying to Qatar to work as a pundit on the San Marino game instead.
Ferdinand said in an FA statement: "After a great deal of thought, I have decided the time is right for me to retire from international football.
"At the age of 34, I feel it is right for me to stand aside and let the younger players come through, which allows me to concentrate on my club career.
"The team looks in great shape and there is an influx of young, talented players coming through the ranks which bodes well for the future.
"I regard it as a great honour and a privilege to have represented my country at every level from U17s upwards.
"I have always been very proud to play for England. I would like to wish Roy and the team all the best for future tournaments.
"A big thank you to all the fans, managers, coaching staff and players that I have worked alongside - the journey has been incredible."