Bloch was born in Geneva to Jewish parents and began playing the violin at age 9. He began composing soon after. He studied music at the conservatory in Brussels, where his teachers included the celebrated Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. He then travelled around Europe, moving to Germany (where he studied composition from 1900–1901 with Iwan Knorr at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt), on to Paris in 1903 and back to Geneva before settling in the United States in 1916, taking American citizenship in 1924. He held several teaching appointments in the U.S., with George Antheil, Frederick Jacobi, Quincy Porter, Bernard Rogers, and Roger Sessions among his pupils. See: List of music students by teacher: A to B#Ernest Bloch. In 1917 Bloch became the first teacher of composition at Mannes College The New School for Music, a post he held for three years. In December 1920 he was appointed the first Musical Director of the newly formed Cleveland Institute of Music, a post he held until 1925. Following this he was director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Musicuntil 1930.
In 1941, Bloch moved to the small coastal community of Agate Beach, Oregon and lived there the rest of his life. He taught and lectured at the University of California, Berkeley until 1952. He died in 1959 in Portland, Oregon, of cancer at the age of 78. His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered near his home in Agate Beach.
The Bloch Memorial has been moved from near his house in Agate Beach to a more prominent location at the Newport Performing Arts Center in Newport, Oregon.