Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has become a serious threat to global health. In China, the proportion of S. aureus isolates that were MRSA was 44.6% in 2014. The clinical and economic impact of MRSA in China remains largely uninvestigated. This study aims to compare the differences in hospital costs, length of hospital stay, and hospital mortality rate between MRSA and methicillin-susceptible S. aureus (MSSA) colonization or infection and between MRSA cases and those without an S. aureus infection. A retrospective and multicentre study was conducted in four tertiary hospitals in China between 2013 and 2015. Inpatient characteristics and hospital costs were collected from electronic medical records. We conducted propensity score matching (PSM) to eliminate selection bias by balancing the potential confounding variables between the two groups. The main indicators included hospital costs, length of hospital stay, and hospital mortality rate. A total of 1,335 inpatients with MRSA, 1,397 with MSSA, and 33,606 without an S. aureus infection were included. PSM obtained 954 and 1,313 pairs between the MRSA and MSSA groups and between the MRSA and S. aureus-free groups, respectively. After PSM, MRSA colonization or infection is associated with an increased total hospital cost ranging from $3,220 to $9,606, an excess length of hospital stay of 6 days-14 days, and an attributable hospital mortality rate of 0-3.58%. Between the MRSA and MSSA groups, MRSA colonization or infection was significantly associated with a higher total hospital cost and longer length of hospital stay among survivors but not among non-survivors; however, there were no differences in the hospital mortality rate between these two groups. Between the MRSA and the S. aureus-free groups, MRSA colonization or infection was significantly associated with an increased total hospital cost, a prolonged length of hospital stay and a higher hospital mortality rate among both survivors and non-survivors. It is critical to quantify the clinical and economic impact of MRSA to justify resource allocation for the development of strategies to improve clinical outcomes and to reduce the economic burden.