The composite term Barosaurus comes from the Greek words barys (βαρυς) meaning "heavy" and sauros (σαυρος) meaning "lizard"; thus "heavy lizard".
Barosaurus was an enormous animal, with some adults measuring more than 25.9 meters (85 feet) in length and weighing more than 20 metric tons (22 short tons). There are some indications of even larger individuals, probably over 50 meters long and with a mass exceeding 120 tonnes making it possibly the largest known dinosaur. Barosaurus was differently proportioned than its close relative Diplodocus, with a longer neck and shorter tail, but was about the same length overall. It was longer than Apatosaurus, but its skeleton was less robust.
Sauropod skulls are rarely preserved, and scientists have yet to discover a Barosaurus skull. Related diplodocids like Apatosaurus and Diplodocus had long, low skulls with peg-like teeth confined to the front of the jaws.
Most of the distinguishing skeletal features of Barosaurus were in the vertebrae, although a complete vertebral column has never been found. Diplodocus and Apatosaurus both had 15 cervical (neck) and 10 dorsal (trunk) vertebrae, while Barosaurus had only 9 dorsals. A dorsal may have been converted into a cervical vertebra, for a total of 16 vertebrae in the neck. Barosaurus cervicals were similar to those of Diplodocus, but some were up to 50% longer. The neural spines protruding from the top of the vertebrae were neither as tall or as complex in Barosaurus as they were in Diplodocus. In contrast to its neck vertebrae, Barosaurus had shorter caudal (tail) vertebrae than Diplodocus, resulting in a shorter tail. The chevron bones lining the underside of the tail were forked and had a prominent forward spike, much like the closely related Diplodocus. The tail probably ended in a long whiplash, much like Apatosaurus, Diplodocus and other diplodocids, some of which had up to 80 tail vertebrae.
The limb bones of Barosaurus were virtually indistinguishable from those of Diplodocus. Both were quadrupedal, with columnar limbs adapted to support the enormous bulk of the animals. Barosaurus had proportionately longer forelimbs than other diplodocids, although they were still shorter than most other groups of sauropods. There was a single carpal bone in the wrist, and the metacarpals were more slender than those of Diplodocus. Barosaurus feet have never been discovered, but like other sauropods, it would have been digitigrade, with all four feet each bearing five small toes. A large claw adorned the inside digit on the manus (forefoot) while smaller claws tipped the inside three digits of the pes (hindfoot).