Mr Gurney, aged 58, has been chief executive at the south coast city since 1994 and was previously chief executive at Wokingham DC and head of health authority personnel at the Department of Health.
He said: 'Bristol is a city with enormous potential - with many excellent councillors and talented officers. The challenge is to realise that potential and I am looking forward to working with the council and its partners to help deliver significant change and improvement, building on the city's successes to date.'
Bristol City Council leader Barbara Janke added: 'We are very pleased to have appointed Mr Gurney from a quality shortlist of candidates. I am confident that his extensive experience will help us improve performance and ensure that Bristol achieves its full potential across the city for the benefit of all residents.'