To characterize the relationship between diabetic retinopathy (DR) and diabetic nephropathy (DN) in Chinese patients and to determine whether the severity of DR predicts end-stage renal disease (ESRD). Bilateral fundic photographs of 91 Chinese type 2 diabetic patients with biopsy-confirmed DN, not in ESRD stage, were obtained at the time of renal biopsy in this longitudinal study. The baseline severity of DR was determined using the Lesion-aware Deep Learning System (RetinalNET) in an open framework for deep learning and was graded using the Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study Severity Scale. Cox proportional hazard models were used to estimate the hazard ratio (HR) for the effect of the severity of diabetic retinopathy on ESRD. During a median follow-up of 15 months, 25 patients progressed to ESRD. The severity of retinopathy at the time of biopsy was a prognostic factor for progression to ESRD (HR 2.18, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.05-4.53, = 0.04). At baseline, more severe retinopathy was associated with poor renal function, and more severe glomerular lesions. However, 30% patients with mild retinopathy and severe glomerular lesions had higher low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol and more severe proteinuria than those with mild glomerular lesions. Additionally, 3% of patients with severe retinopathy and mild glomerular changes were more likely to have had diabetes a long time than those with severe glomerular lesions. Although the severity of DR predicted diabetic ESRD in patients with T2DM and DN, the severities of DR and DN were not always consistent, especially in patients with mild retinopathy or microalbuminuria.