Martin Senn's decision to step down was taken in agreement with Zurich's board of directors, the company said in a statement, adding he would leave at the end of the year.
"After ten very intense years with Zurich, I decided to retire and make way for new management," Senn said in the statement.
"There have been some setbacks in recent months, but I am convinced that we have put in place the right measures for Zurich to reach its targets," he said.
"I will remain closely tied to the company and am proud of what we have achieved together over the years."
Zurich chairman Tom de Swaan will take over from Senn in the interim period.
In September, Zurich had warned that it faced significant losses after massive explosions at a hazardous goods storage firm in Tianjin, in northeastern China on August 12 killed 161 people.
Last month Zurich reported after-tax profits of $207 million, down from $966 million over the same period last year, a plunge also linked to poor performance in its general insurance unit.
Senn said at the time that a "comprehensive review" of the business aimed at restoring profitability would lead to changes in the management structure and job cuts.
Zurich said in its statement on Tuesday that Senn's departure would have no impact on the group's financial objectives.