It has a total length of c. 20 cm (8 in). As other barbets, the Gilded Barbet is a thickset, relatively large-headed bird with a stubby bill. The upperparts, tail, wings and mask are mainly black. The spotty bar over the greater wing coverts, narrow edging to the remiges and tips to the tertials are yellow. Additionally, the narrow yellow eye-brows extends as two parallel lines over the mantle. The belly is mainly pale yellow with black streaking to the flanks. Depending on subspecies, the throat ranges from red to orange, and the crown ranges from deep yellow over brownish-orange to reddish-orange. The female resembles the male, but with extensive orange-yellow edging to the wing-coverts, yellowish streaking to the auriculars and back, and the black streaking of the flanks also extending over the chest. In females from the westernmost part of its range (subspecies punctatus), the throat is streaked black. Both sexes have dark maroon irides, greyish legs and a broadly black-tipped grey bill.
In the northwest Amazon Basin, the eastern range limit is central Roraima state Brazil, the south flowing Branco River. The contiguous range to the northwest into Venezuela is all of eastern Venezuela approaching the Guyana border. The Gilded Barbet's range is on the eastern side of the Caribbean north-flowing Orinoco River drainage, but avoids the lower-half riverine strip by 150 km; the range occurs on the upper-half of the Orinoco River extending south into the eastern border area of Colombia.
A small range extension goes southeastwards into central Bolivia, which are also tributary areas to the Madeira River.