Richard Doctorow said his father died of complications from lung cancer.
He was known for works which re-imagine the American experience, placing fictional characters in recognisable historical contexts.
US President Barack Obama paid tribute to him as "one of America's greatest novelists".
The president tweeted: "his books taught me much, and he will be missed.''
In a 50-year career, Doctorow published 10 novels, a stage drama, two books of short fiction and numerous essays.
EL Doctorow was a son of the Bronx, famed and celebrated for historical novels that captured the rambunctiousness of New York.
His breakthrough work Ragtime was published in 1975. The novel was set in the run-up to America's entry into World War One. It brought together real life figures like Harry Houdini and Henry Ford with characters sketched in the author's imagination.
Billy Bathgate chronicled the Depression-era and traced the criminal career of a young kid from the Bronx, who fell under the spell of the mob.
But arguably his most acclaimed novel was The March, which reconstructed one of the American Civil War's most controversial campaigns - General Sherman's brutal advance through the South.
"History is the present," the author once said, "that's why every generation writes it anew."
Doctorow received critical praise throughout his career. He won the National Book Award for fiction in 1986 for World's Fair, the National Book Critics Circle award in 1989 for Billy Bathgate and again in 2005 for The March.
"I don't know what I set out to do," Doctorow said in 2006 about The March.
"Someone pointed out to me a couple of years ago that you could line them up and in effect now with this book, [cover] 150 years of American history. And this was entirely unplanned."
The breadth of his work was recognised last year with the award of the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction.
Born Edgar Lawrence Doctorow on 6 January 1931, he was named after the author Edgar Allen Poe. Doctorow would go on to describe him as "our greatest bad writer".
He published his first novel, Welcome to Hard Times, in 1960 following a stint as a script reader for movie studio Columbia Pictures.
Several of Doctorow's novels including Ragtime and Billy Bathgate were turned into movies. Ragtime was also made into a Broadway musical in 1998.