The job, which includes responsibility for universities, has gone to Angela Constance, formerly the secretary for training, youth and women’s employment.
There is no room for Mr Russell in the reshuffled cabinet, which has equal representation of male and female secretaries.
Ms Sturgeon thanked Mr Russell, who had served as education secretary since 2009, for his “sterling work in government”.
Under his watch the Scottish National Party administration maintained its policy of free higher education tuition and earlier this month Mr Russell unveiled proposals for a new higher education bill.
This would implement key recommendations of the review of governance led by Ferdinand von Prondzynski, principal of Robert Gordon University, and would require university courts to have elected chairs and to include staff and student representatives.
On Twitter, Mr Russell said he had been “hugely privileged” to serve as education secretary and wished his successor “success in a wonderful job”.
Universities Scotland responded, saying: “We may not have agreed on everything but we thank you for the strong support you have shown higher education.”
NUS Scotland, meanwhile, tweeted to Mr Russell: “We’ve had a strong critical friendship not always agreeing but achieved some significant wins for students.”
Ms Constance studied at the University of Glasgow and was elected president of the student representative council during her time there.