Collins, 34, who was capped 48 times by the All Blacks, was near the town of Beziers when his car came to an unexplained stop on the A9 highway, before being hit by the bus.
The couple were travelling with their two-month-old daughter, who survived the accident but is in a serious condition, the officials said. The driver of the bus, which was carrying Portuguese tourists, was lightly injured.
Collins' wife was Alana Madill and New Zealand Rugby (NZR) named their child as Ayla.
The flanker made his All Blacks debut against Argentina in 2001 but his international career ended at just 26 when New Zealand lost to France in the quarter-finals of the 2007 World Cup in Cardiff.
The All Blacks official website described him as one of New Zealand's most feared enforcers.
“Collins was one of the toughest and most uncompromising forwards to ever play for the All Blacks and his ferocious tackling and intimidating presence made him feared by every opponent,” it said.
Greg Peters, chief executive of SANZAR, the ruling body of southern hemisphere rugby, hailed Collins as an “undisputed legend of the game.”
“He inspired all of those around him with his passion and love for the game throughout a highly decorated career for club and country,” said Peters in a statement.
“Rest in peace JC, as the rugby world mourns and remembers one of its greats.”
Collins captained New Zealand on three occasions, including a Test against Argentina, and went on to play in France, Wales and Japan after leaving his homeland. He was currently playing with second tier French club RC Narbonne.
He was known for some mischievous moments, including being caught relieving himself on the pitch just before kick-off in a Tri-Nations game against Australia in 2006.
He laughed it off, saying: “It was just the wrong time and the wrong place but what could I do? I couldn't sprint off and find the toilets.”
Collins also hit the headlines off the pitch in Japan when he was arrested for the illegal possession of a 17-centimetre (seven-inch) kitchen knife.
According to the Japanese media, he told police he kept it with him to “defend himself.”
NZR general manager Neil Sorensen said: “The news has shocked us all and our thoughts are with Jerry and Alana's families at this terribly sad time.”
Collins' manager Tim Castle said the player's family was distraught at the death of “a much-loved son, brother and friend”.
Past and present All Blacks responded with sadness and disbelief on social media to the demise of the player known as JC.
“Struggling to think that it's happened.. dont want to believe it!!,” World Cup winner Piri Weepu tweeted. “Had the privilege and honour of bleeding with him on the weekends on the field. Words can't express how sad I am brother. RIP big brother JC!”
Veteran Keven Mealamu simply said: “Don't want to believe it” while All Blacks winger Cory Jane tweeted “RIP hitman”.
Officials announced a minute's silence would be held before the Wellington Hurricanes, his former team, play the Otago Highlanders in Napier later Friday.
“We plan to go out there tonight and honour the hell out of Hurricane No. 82. RIP Jerry, you will always be a huge part of the Canes legacy,” the Hurricanes tweeted.
Former Wallabies skipper David Pocock also expressed his sympathies. – AFP
Original source: Tributes pour in for Jerry Collins