Provision of antiretroviral treatment (ART) to people living with HIV (PLWH) has increased globally. Research measuring whether ART restores subjective well-being to “normal” levels is lacking, particularly in resource limited settings. The study objectives are to compare quality of life and depression symptoms for PLWH on ART to a general community population and to explore factors to explain these differences, including socio-economic status and the impact of urban or rural residence. PLWH on ART (n = 263) were recruited from ART delivery sites and participants not on ART (n = 160) were recruited from communities in Wakiso District, Uganda. Participants were interviewed using the translated World Health Organisation Quality of Life brief measure, the Hopkins Symptom Checklist depression section, and questions about socio-economic status, residence as urban or rural and, for PLWH on ART, self-reported adherence and use of HIV counselling. Compared to the community sample and controlling for location of residence, PLWH on ART had significantly higher quality of life (QOL) for physical, psychological and environment domains, but not the social domain. These differences were not due to socio-economic status alone. Depression scores were significantly lower for PLWH on ART. Both comparisons controlled for the effect of location of residence. People on ART self-reported high adherence and the majority had used HIV counselling services. Our findings show better QOL amongst PLWH on ART compared to a general community sample, which cannot be explained solely by differences in socio-economic status nor location of residence. The general community sample results point towards the challenges of life in this setting. Access to health services may underpin this difference and further research should explore this finding, in addition to identification of psychological mechanisms that relate to better QOL. ART provision infrastructure has clear benefits. Further work should consider sustainability and replication for other health conditions.