Also on the list, which was released today, are pop singer Linda Ronstadt, blue-eyed soul duo Hall and Oates and British singer-songwriter Cat Stevens.
The latter three might come as a surprise to some hard rock fans, but the Rock Hall, which has drawn controversy since it began inducting performers in 1986, includes not just the legends of rock, but soul and R&B artists, like Smokey Robinson and Gladys Knight & the Pips, rap artists like Public Enemy and the King and Queen of pop music, Michael Jackson and Madonna.
Nirvana, which ushered in grunge rock, is being recognized in their first year of eligibility. Artists are eligible for induction 25 years after their first release.
"This is a great honor. Thank you to the people who nominated and voted for us. Thank you most of all to Kurt Cobain," Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic said in a statement about the band's frontman who committed suicide 20 years ago.
"For once … I'm speechless. From the basements, to the dingy clubs, to the broken down vans, to … the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I'd like to thank the committee not only for this induction, but also for recognizing Nirvana for what we were: pure rock and roll," Dave Grohl, who was the band's drummer, said in a statement.
Today's announcement was also a victory for glam rock group KISS, which had previously been nominated but failed to win enough votes despite widespread fan support.
"The spirit of rock and roll for me has always meant following the paths I choose regardless of what my critics or my peers think. For 40 years KISS has built an army that apologizes to no one and I'm honored to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame knowing we have remained true to ourselves and our fans," guitarist Paul Stanley said in a statement.
For a second year in a row, fans helped choose this year's inductees. The top five artists from online public voting made it onto a "fans' ballot" that was tallied along with the other ballots from more than 700 voters, which includes previous inductees, music industry professionals, historians and critics.
Among fans, Kiss (239,000 votes) and Nirvana (218,000) scored easy victories.
Though less edgy than their fellow inductees, Hall and Oates, Ronstadt and Stevens have amassed an array of chart-topping successes.
Stevens became a leading figure in the folk-rock scene of the 1970s, with hits like "Wild World" and "Peace Train," selling more than 15 million albums before stepping away from the limelight in 1977 after converting to Islam and changing his name to Yusuf Islam. More than 20 years later, he returned to touring and recording.
Ronstadt's career has spanned a variety of musical styles, including folk, pop, country, rock and Latin, and she has a won a slew of Grammy Awards and sold at least 30 million albums. Earlier this year, she told ABC News' Diane Sawyer she could no longer sing because of Parkinson's disease.
One of the most successful pop duos of all time, Hall and Oates chalked up six No. 1 singles and six platinum albums during the 70s and 80s with their blend of lush Philly soul and punchy rock and sold more than 13 million albums.
The duo said in a statement that they are looking forward to participating in the induction ceremony in Brooklyn April 10, 2014. "Without the efforts of our fans," they said, "this would not have happened."