The Microsoft co-founder topped Forbes magazine's ranking of the world's richest billionaires for the 8th straight year, even as his net worth fell 10 percent from a year ago to $52.8 billion.
Gates remained comfortably ahead of Warren Buffett, who held the No. 2 spot with $35 billion, according to the 16th annual ranking released Thursday.
It was a list most notable for its losers.
The number of billionaires dropped by 83 this year to 497 as recession and fallout from the terrorist attacks reduced their wealth. The group's combined worth fell to $1.54 trillion, from $1.73 trillion last year.
Among the missing: AOL Time Warner Chairman Steve Case, whose company's stock has declined by about half since last year, and Gary Winnick, chairman of Global Crossing, which filed for bankruptcy protection in January.
It was the second year of decline in the number of billionaires since a downturn in the technology sector began pressuring the world economy. The largest drop of 91 came last year.
"Talk about churn, creation and destruction at work," said Louisa Kroll, who edited Forbes' March billionaires issue, which was to hit the newsstands Friday. "For two years in a row, it's been falling fortunes."
German retailers Theo and Karl Albrecht climbed two notches to No. 3, with a net value of $26.8 billion. They pushed Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, ranked third last year with a value of $30.4 billion, to No. 4. He lost $5.2 billion, partly in the stock market bust.
Oracle Corp. founder Larry Ellison had the fifth spot, while five heirs of the Wal-Mart fortune created by founder Sam Walton rounded out the top 10.
Only 25 people on the list are under 40, led by 37-year-old computer founder Michael Dell at No. 18. The highest-ranking woman was No. 8, Alice Walton, with assets of $20.5 billion.
The list was set using stock prices and exchange rates as of Feb. 4.
The United States had more people on the list than any other country, with 243 billionaires, down from 272 last year. Their combined net worth fell by $111 billion. One of the bigger losers was CNN founder Ted Turner, now a vice chairman at AOL Time Warner, whose net worth was cut in half to $3.8 billion. He dropped 62 places on the list to No. 97.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder of the financial information company that bears his name, saw his ranking move up 10 places to No. 72, with $4.4 billion in assets. He moved up despite spending $70 million of his own money to win his first political campaign last fall, and losing a total of $100 million during the year.
Europe had 121 billionaires, headed by the Albrechts and Germany's Johanna Quandt and family, whose 46 percent ownership of automaker BMW helped put them at No. 12.
Japan's Yasuo Takei and family dropped 14 places to No. 51, with their country battling deflation and a decade-long economic slowdown. Japan accounted for five of Asia's 15 former billionaires who dropped from the list this year.
Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud was No. 11.
Of the 497 total billionaires from 43 countries, 260 inherited some or all of their wealth, and the rest made their money themselves. Twenty-seven are college dropouts.