FIFA's executive committee choose Qatar -- a nation smaller than Connecticut, which has promised to overcome 130-degree heat with air conditioned stadiums -- over the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea in a secret vote Thursday.
Minutes earlier, Russia was announced as host of the 2018 tournament. It was chosen over England and joint bids by Spain-Portugal and Netherlands-Belgium.
"We go to new lands," FIFA president Sepp Blatter said.
Following corruption allegations that led to two of 24 FIFA executive committee members being excluded from the vote, the decision was bound to be controversial even before it was made. It also will cause American sports executives to question what they have do to host another international event.
Qatar, with a population smaller than that of Houston, used its 30-minute presentation to underline how the tournament could unify a region ravaged by conflict. Presenters also promised to dismantle the stadiums built for the tournament and give them to needy nations.
"Thank you for believing in change, thank you for believing in expanding the game, thank you for giving Qatar a chance," said Sheikh Mohammad bin Hamad Al-Thani, Qatar's bid chairman. "We will not let you down. Youu will be proud of us, you will be proud of the Middle East and I promise you this."
It was the second international loss in the year for the U.S., which was led by former President Bill Clinton during its final presentation Wednesday. Last year, the International Olympic Committee chose Rio de Janeiro over Chicago and others for the 2016 Olympics despite a personal lobbying effort by President Barack Obama.
Brazil was selected as the 2014 host in October 2007, and FIFA began accepting bids for the following two tournaments in early 2009.
The World Cup was played in the United States for the first time in 1994, setting a record with 3.58 million tickets sold, and the U.S. Soccer Federation had hoped a second World Cup in America would boost soccer's slow but steady growth and give a big lift to Major League Soccer.
Now the United States will have to wait until at least 2026, when it may have to compete with bids from Europe, soccer's financial base.
By selecting Qatar, FIFA precluded a 2026 bid from China, since the same continent cannot host consecutive World Cups.
The 2018 vote was especially crushing for England, the motherland of soccer, which has not hosted the World Cup since winning it for the only time in 1966.
"You will never regret" the decision, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said. "Let us make history together."