Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is known to cause multi-organ dysfunction1–3 during acute infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), with some patients experiencing prolonged symptoms, termed post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (refs. 4,5). However, the burden of infection outside the respiratory tract and time to viral clearance are not well characterized, particularly in the brain3,6–14. Here we carried out complete autopsies on 44 patients who died with COVID-19, with extensive sampling of the central nervous system in 11 of these patients, to map and quantify the distribution, replication and cell-type specificity of SARS-CoV-2 across the human body, including the brain, from acute infection to more than seven months following symptom onset. We show that SARS-CoV-2 is widely distributed, predominantly among patients who died with severe COVID-19, and that virus replication is present in multiple respiratory and non-respiratory tissues, including the brain, early in infection. Further, we detected persistent SARS-CoV-2 RNA in multiple anatomic sites, including throughout the brain, as late as 230 days following symptom onset in one case. Despite extensive distribution of SARS-CoV-2 RNA throughout the body, we observed little evidence of inflammation or direct viral cytopathology outside the respiratory tract. Our data indicate that in some patients SARS-CoV-2 can cause systemic infection and persist in the body for months.