Carrer was born in Zakynthos. He studied in Zakynthos and in Corfu. In the early 1850s he moved to Milan, where his first operas and ballets were performed at the stages of the Teatro Carcano and the Teatro alla Canobbiana. In the same city he published some of his salon music. In 1857 he returned to Zakynthos, where Isabella d'Aspeno and La Rediviva were performed. In 1858 excerpts from his opera Marcos Botsaris were performed in Athens in the presence of King Otto. However he was unable to secure its performance in his native Zakynthos because of the occupation of the island by the British who feared the subject of the opera (the Greek war of independence) would increase pro-independence sentiments among the Zakynthos and other Ionian islands population. In mainland Greece, Marcos was first performed in Patras in 1861 and then Athens in 1875. The last of his operas, the neoclassical Marathon-Salamis (1888), had its world-premiere in 2003. Throughout his career, Carrer also worked as a teacher and an orchestra conductor.
Carrer was one of the most popular and widely performed composers in 19th-century Greece, while achieving reputation in Italy. His style has Italian influences, especially from Verdi and the belcanto. However, his musical idiom became more and more personal, not necessarily because he sought inspiration in musical themes of traditional and urban popular music of mainland Greece. He was one of the mainstays of the Ionian school of music of the 19th century and the first Greek music composer to put forward a complete collection of vocal works with national subjects, Greek-language libretti and lyrics and melodies inspired by the folk, as well as the urban popular tradition of Greece. He died in Zakynthos.
- Dante e Bice (1852)
- Isabella d'Aspeno (1854)
- La Rediviva (1855), Marcos Botsaris (1858–1860)
- Fior di Maria (1867)
- I Kyra Frossyni (1868)
- Maria Antonietta (1873)
- Despo (1875)
- Marathon-Salamis (1886–1888)
- Sacred vocal
- Ina ti efryaxan ethni
- Secular vocal (selected titles)
- O Gero Demos, O stratiotis/Asma polemou
- I anthopolitra
- Lave ena rhodo agapi mou
- To fengari, Maria
- I katadiki toy klefti
- 45 pieces for piano, music for band, music for flute and piano (mainly opera paraphrases)
- Pavlos Karrer, Despo, Markos Botsaris (excerpts) (LP released by the 'Friends of the Museum of Solomos and Distinguished Zantiotes', Zante, 1989) EMI MT15117
- Paolo Carrer, Frossini (Lyra, ML0669/70, 1998)
- Paolo Carrer, Despo (Lyra, CD0792,2002) (this recording includes, apart from Despo, the prelude to "Isabella d'Aspeno", the overture to "Maria Antonietta", "Gero-Demos", three songs for soprano and orchestra and a polka for orchestra)
- E. Legrand: Bibliographie ionienne du quinzième siècle à l'année 1900, ed. H. Pernot, iii (Paris, 1910)
- N. Varvianis: "Pavlos Carreris", Elliniki dhimiourghia [Hellenic creation], viii/85 (1951), 276–80
- G. Leotsakos, ed.: Pavlou Carrer Apomnimonevmata ke Katalogos ergon ke moussikon heirographon [The Memoirs of Pavlos Carrer and a Catalogue of his Works and Musical Manuscripts] (Athens, 2000)
- G. Leotsakos: Pavlos Karrer: Apomnimonevmata kai Ergografia [Pavlos Karrer: Memoirs and Works] (Athens, Benaki Museum / Ionian University-Department of Music, 2003)
- A. Xepapadakou, The Operas of the Composer Pavlos Carrer of Zante, 1829-1896. Ph.D. Thesis, Ionian University, Dept. of Music Studies, Corfu: 2005.
- A. Xepapadakou, “‘Thin red line’. The opera Maria Antonietta and the second European attempt of Pavlos Carrer”, in the Proceedings of the Conference The Ionian Opera and Musical Theatre until 1953, Athens: University of Athens-Dept. of Theatre Studies, Athens State Orchestra & Athens Concert Hall
- A. Xepapadakou, “The national element in the Ionian Opera. The case of Pavlos Carrer”, Ariadne, Scientific Bulletin of the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Crete, Rethymno: 2011, 169–199.
- A. Xepapadakou, “The ill-fated opera Marathon-Salamis”, in Parabasis, Scientific Bulletin, 5, Athens: University of Athens-Dept. of Theatre Studies, 2003, 41–51.
- A. Xepapadakou, “The Marco Bozzari by Pavlos Carrer, a ‘national’ Opera”, in Moussikos Logos, 5, Corfu: Ionian University-Dept. of Music Studies, 2003, 27–63.