Circular RNAs (circRNAs) comprise a novel class of widespread non-coding RNAs that may regulate gene expression in eukaryotes. However, the characterization and function of circRNAs in human cancer remain elusive. Here we identified at least 5500 distinct circRNA candidates and a series of circRNAs that are differentially expressed in gastric cancer (GC) tissues compared with matched normal tissues. We further characterized one circRNA derived from the PVT1 gene and termed it as circPVT1. The expression of circPVT1 is often upregulated in GC tissues due to the amplification of its genomic locus. circPVT1 may promote cell proliferation by acting as a sponge for members of the miR-125 family. The level of circPVT1 was observed as an independent prognostic marker for overall survival and disease-free survival of patients with GC. Our findings suggest that circPVT1 is a novel proliferative factor and prognostic marker in GC.