The show, entitled Damien Hirst, features some new work in the form of diamond and butterfly-decorated wallpaper, and highlights from the 46-year-old's phenomenally successful career.
Hirst's installation In And Out Of Love is shown for the first time since its creation in 1991, comprising a room full of live butterflies, feeding on sugar water and fruit which visitors are advised to go through at a "steady, slow pace", next to an adjoining room of dead butterflies on monochrome canvases.
Visitors will be assaulted by the smell of dying flies and a rotting cow's head in A Thousand Years (1990), where flies emerge from maggots, eat from the animal's head and die on an Insectocutor.
For The Love Of God, the human skull covered in 8,601 flawless diamonds - the work Hirst says he is most proud of - is on display at Tate Modern's Turbine Hall, with its own security.
The retrospective also features a shark suspended in formaldehyde in The Physical Impossibility of Death In the Mind Of Someone Living (1991), Hirst's largest spot painting, the Pharmacy (1992) installation of medicine bottles, spin paintings, and hundreds of used cigarettes in a giant ashtray in Crematorium (1996).
At the end of the exhibition, which opens on Wednesday, visitors can spend £700 on a limited edition roll of butterfly wallpaper, or part with £36,800 for a plastic skull decorated with "household gloss" in the style of one of Hirst's spin paintings.
Other objects on sale include a butterfly-print deckchair for £310, and a spot painting-style skateboard "stamped with signature" for £480.
Hirst said he had been asked to do a retrospective since he was 28, but he had shied away from the idea.
"I think I was avoiding it because I was afraid of it in some ways," he said. "The idea is more frightening than the reality. You have to get to the point when you are ready to look back."
Hirst, who is now making paintings with scalpel blades and using bugs in his studio, said of his retrospective: "It seems more about life than death to me. It's optimistic, fun, full of beans. I definitely expected it to be shabbier."
He said of his show: "I am proud of it. It all feels strong and sober. You fear that it's going to be dusty, in cobwebs and meaningless like a lot of stuff in this world."
He described his own work as "traditional art", adding: "You want art that sits in the history of art quite comfortably.
"I'm also looking for timelessness. You watch Vic and Bob on TV or Spitting Image and it doesn't have any meaning and it was great at the time. As an artist you're afraid that's going to happen to you."
He defended his work following criticism from art critic and former curator Julian Spalding, who described conceptual art as "con art".
Hirst said that the comment was "more about selling a book than selling art" and that he would advise anyone who had bought one of his pieces to "keep them on for a few more spins of the roulette wheel".
"People don't like contemporary art but all art starts out as contemporary," he said.
Hirst defended the merchandise at his retrospective, saying: "You get the Mona Lisa and then you get the postcards, the T-shirts, the mouse-pad, the earrings and the mugs.
"One thing is the artwork and the other is getting it out there and I've always been torn between the two."
He said: "A painting probably has the most shocking increase in value than what it cost to make but you'd never look at a Rembrandt and say that's just wood and canvas and paint and say 'how much?"'
Asked whether the plastic skull selling for £36,800 would hold its value, he replied: "Maybe on eBay you might be all right for a bit."
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