The government says 95% of rebuilding projects have now been completed.
Nearly 90,000 people died or are missing in the worst natural disaster in a generation. Questions are still being asked about why so many schools collapsed.
The anniversary was marked by a special gala performance in Beijing and more sombre events in Sichuan on Thursday.
In late 2008, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said it would take three years to provide affected people with basic living conditions.
On a recent tour of disaster-hit areas he said that had now been achieved, saying there had been a “decisive victory”.
“Socio-economic development and living conditions in the region have already surpassed pre-earthquake levels,” said Mr Wen, according to the state-run news agency Xinhua.
There are new schools, hospitals and homes in a building spree that has cost nearly 800bn yuan ($123bn, £75bn). Entire towns have been rebuilt in new locations.
Pictures of the premier being mobbed by grateful survivors are being shown on national TV.
The message is clear – three years on, the government has fulfilled its promises.
But one issue has been brushed over. Dozens of schools collapsed in the magnitude-8 earthquake, with thousands of children dying.
Many parents still want to know why so many fell down while other buildings remained standing.
They have not been given a proper answer. Some says they are harassed, detained – even beaten up for trying to find out.
“The government is basically suppressing us by violence. They sometimes follow us wherever we go,” said Yang Guofang, whose son died when his primary school fell down in the city of Dujiangyan.
“Some of the families have been beaten up and constantly watched,” added the 40-year-old.
A number of parents have been warned not to go near the sites of collapsed schools to remember their dead children.