Born in Dayton, Ohio, Bombeck graduated from the University of Dayton in 1949 with a degree in English. She started her career in 1949 as a reporter for the Ohio Journal Herald, but after marrying school administrator Bill Bombeck, a college friend, she left the job and raised three children.
As the children grew she started writing At Wit's End, telling self-deprecating tales about the life of a housewife. It debuted in the Kettering-Oakwood Times in 1964. She was paid $3 per column.
Growing popularity led At Wit's End to be nationally syndicated in 1965, and eventually it ran twice a week in more than 700 newspapers. The column was collected in many best-selling books, and her fame was such that a television sitcom was based on her. The series, Maggie, ran for eight shows in 1982 before being cancelled.
In 1971, the Bombecks moved to Paradise Valley, Arizona.
Bombeck suffered from polycistic kidney disease, a hereditary disorder that causes cysts to form on the kidneys. In 1996 worsening health forced her to have a kidney transplant, and she died of complications that year.