Four cities failed to make the cut: Havana; Istanbul, Turkey; Leipzig, Germany, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The field was trimmed by the International Olympic Committee executive board based on a report assessing the technical capabilities of the nine cities.
The unanimous decision, announced by IOC president Jacques Rogge, kicks off a 14-month race culminating with the selection of the host city by the full IOC assembly in Singapore in July 2005.
Four cities — Paris, London, Madrid and New York — had been considered virtually certain of making the list. Moscow was the wild card, benefiting from its experience as host of the 1980 Olympics.
Geography favors a European city for 2012 after the 2008 Summer Olympics in Asia (Beijing) and 2010 Winter Games in North America (Vancouver, British Columbia).
Paris, which hosted the Olympics in 1900 and 1924, is viewed as the front-runner. The French capital successfully hosted soccer's World Cup in 1998 and the world track and field championships in 2003, and is seen by IOC members as having paid its dues after failed bids for the 1992 and 2008 Olympics.
London, which staged the Games in 1908 and 1948, is considered a main challenger with a bid featuring several famous sports venues and tourist landmarks — including tennis at Wimbledon and triathlon in Hyde Park.
Madrid is the only major European capital which has never hosted the Olympics, though Barcelona staged the 1992 Games.
New York, which has never held the Olympics, has to contend with anti-American sentiment fueled by the invasion of Iraq, as well as the geographical disadvantage of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Canada. The IOC is often reluctant to award consecutive Olympics to the same continent.
There were no major surprises in the elimination of four cities.
Leipzig was disadvantaged by its small size and shortage of hotel accommodations. Istanbul, making a fourth straight bid, did not make much of an impact.
Rio, hoping to become the first city in South America to host the Olympics, has a major crime problem. In addition, Brazil is likely to be awarded soccer's 2014 World Cup — it would be a major challenge to host both events so close to each other.
On the eve of the decision, Rogge said the goal was "separating the boys from the men."
"There is a whole set of criteria," he said, "but the bottom line is ultimately whether a city has the ability of staging the games."
The process appeared to favor big, modern cities with established infrastructure, reliable transport services, good security and plenty of hotel beds.
"We are looking at a number of things," Rogge said. "Of course, the experience of a country or city in staging world events plays a big role."
The nine bidders had been listed as "applicant cities." Those accepted on Tuesday became official candidate cities. Each finalist must pay the IOC $500,000 to help cover the cost of the remaining judging and selection process.
An IOC evaluation commission will compile a thorough report on the bids before the Singapore meeting. Since the Salt Lake City bid scandal, IOC members are banned from visiting bid cities.
Three members of the 15-member board were excluded from Tuesday's decision because they come from countries with bid cities: Germany's Thomas Bach, Russia's Vitaly Smirnov and Jim Easton of the United States.