He was born in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, the son of a tax collector, and developed his love of poetry as a child. While apprenticed to a local doctor, he met his future wife, Sarah Elmy. His first major work, a poem entitled "Inebriety", was self-published in 1775. By this time he had completed his medical training, and had decided to take up writing seriously. In 1780, he went to London, where he had little success, but eventually made an impression on Edmund Burke, who helped him have his poem, The Library, published in 1781. In the meantime, Crabbe's religious nature had made itself felt, and he was ordained a clergyman and became chaplain to the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire.
The two works for which Crabbe became best known were The Village (1783) and The Borough (1810), both lengthy poems dealing with the way of life he had grown up with. In 1783, he also married Sarah. In 1814, he became vicar of Trowbridge in Wiltshire, where he remained. By the time of his death, he was well-regarded and a friend of William Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott and other major literary figures of the time.
Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes is based on The Borough. Byron, an avowed admirer of Crabbe's poetry, called him "Nature's sternest painter, yet the best".
He was also an active and notable coleopterist and recorder of beetles, and is credited for taking the first specimen of Calosoma sycophanta L. to be recorded from Suffolk. He published an essay on the Natural History of the Vale of Belvoir in John Nichols's, Bibliotheca Topopgraphia Britannica, VIII, Antiquities in Leicestershire, 1790. It includes a very extensive list of local coleopterans, and references more than 70 species. This text was later reviewed by the renowned entomologist Horace Donisthorpe (Leics. lit. phil. Soc., 4, 1896, 198-200), who concluded that George Crabbe had both a broad knowledge of national species and was well acquainted with contemporary scientific literature, including works by Linnaeus and Fabricius.