Adele's chart-topping album 21 has topped the global albums chart for a second consecutive year
The album, released in January 2011, sold 8.3 million copies last year, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) said.
Overall music revenues were up 0.3% to $16.5bn (£10.9bn) - the first year of industry growth since 1999.
Paul Williams, the head of business analysis at Music Week, said the rise was "very significant".
"After many, many years of decline the graph is finally heading northwards again," he said.
"It underlines the efforts the music industry has been putting in and the results it's now getting in reinventing itself in the digital era."
The IFPI's annual Digital Music Report also showed that digital revenues grew by 9% last year and now account for 34% of total revenue, reports the BBC.
Carly Rae Jepsen's hit Call Me Maybe was the best-selling single of 2012, with 12.5 million units sold globally.
Adele outsold her nearest rival, Taylor Swift's Red, by some three million copies.
Former X Factor contestants One Direction had the third and fourth best-selling albums around the world with their first two records Up All Night and Take Me Home, with 4.5 million and 4.4 million copies sold respectively.
There were two other British acts in the top 10 - Rod Stewart's Merry Christmas, Baby was at number seven and Grammy winners Mumford and Sons' Babel was at nine.
Gotye's mega-hit Somebody That I Used To Know was the second biggest-selling single globally, with 11.8 million purchases.
Psy's YouTube smash Gangnam Style sold 9.7 million units, with Fun's We Are Young just behind on 9.6 million.
The IFPI's report also showed that download sales represented around 70% of overall digital music revenue.
Subscription streaming accounts for 10%, while mobile ringtones and ad-funded services like YouTube and Vevo made up the difference.
Although the music industry was showing signs of recovery, the IFPI said there were still "major hurdles that need to be addressed to unlock the huge potential for further growth".
It said internet piracy still had a seriously impact on the industry, estimating that nearly a third of all internet users regularly access unlicensed sites to download music.
The organisation recommended that companies stop advertising on illegal music sites and urged search engine providers to prioritise search results relating to legal services.
"Our markets remain rigged by illegal free music," said IFPI chief executive Frances Moore.
"This is a problem where governments have a critical role to play, in particular by requiring more co-operation from advertisers, search engines, ISPs and other intermediaries.
"These companies' activities have a decisive influence in shaping a legitimate digital music business."
GLOBAL ALBUM SALES FOR 2012
1. Adele - 21 (8.3m units sold)
2. Taylor Swift - Red (5.2m)
3. One Direction - Up All Night (4.5m)
4. One Direction - Take Me Home (4.4m)
5. Lana Del Rey - Born To Die (4.4m)