The CMS apparatus was identified, a few years before the start of the LHC operation at CERN, to feature properties well suited to particle-flow (PF) reconstruction: a highly-segmented tracker, a fine-grained electromagnetic calorimeter, a hermetic hadron calorimeter, a strong magnetic field, and an excellent muon spectrometer. A fully-fledged PF reconstruction algorithm tuned to the CMS detector was therefore developed and has been consistently used in physics analyses for the first time at a hadron collider. For each collision, the comprehensive list of final-state particles identified and reconstructed by the algorithm provides a global event description that leads to unprecedented CMS performance for jet and hadronic tau decay reconstruction, missing transverse momentum determination, and electron and muon identification. This approach also allows particles from pileup interactions to be identified and enables efficient pileup mitigation methods. The data collected by CMS at a centre-of-mass energy of 8 TeV show excellent agreement with the simulation and confirm the superior PF performance at least up to an average of 20 pileup interactions.