ESPNcricinfo understands that the offer was made in April, just 24 hours before South Africa's selectors unveiled their final 15-man squad for the World Cup.
De Villiers is believed to have approached South Africa's captain Faf du Plessis, head coach Ottis Gibson and convenor of selectors Linda Zondi, expressing his desire to reverse his retirement, but was told that this would not be possible. According to people privy to the talks, de Villiers' request was "not even considered".
It is understood that there were two main reasons behind the team management and selectors' decision. Primarily, de Villiers had retired in May 2018, exactly a year before the World Cup was scheduled. Thereafter, he did not fulfil the selection criteria, which included playing South African domestic cricket or international cricket in the intervening months.
It was also felt that a recall for de Villiers would have been unfair on the players who have been performing in his absence, men such as Rassie van der Dussen, who made three fifties in his first four ODI innings after making his debut against Pakistan in January.
The revelation comes amid a calamitous start to South Africa's World Cup campaign, which has featured three defeats in a row - including Wednesday's six-wicket loss to India at the Hampshire Bowl - in addition to the loss of another of their all-time great players, Dale Steyn, who withdrew from the squad this week due to a shoulder injury.
South Africa may now need to win all six of its remaining group fixtures, starting with Monday's clash against West Indies in Southampton, just to give themselves a chance of reaching the World Cup semi-finals.
The situation has led many South African fans to demand an emergency recall for de Villiers, who made 9577 runs at 53.50 in his ODI career, including a world-record 31-ball hundred against West Indies in January 2015. The fact that he could indeed have been available to his country will add to the impression of a squad in the throes of another World Cup crisis.
Last year, in a video posted on Twitter, de Villiers called time on his 14-year international career with immediate effect, stating that he was "tired" and "running out of gas".
"For me, in green and gold, it must be everything or nothing," he said. "I will always be grateful to my team-mates, the coaches and the staff of Cricket South Africa for their support through all these years."
Although he turned 35 in February, he demonstrated his enduring class with 442 runs at 44.20 for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the recent IPL, and he is due to link up with Middlesex in the T20 Blast immediately after the World Cup.
More recently, however, de Villiers has been dropping hints that he would be willing to renege on his decision. Speaking on Indian TV in May, around the time of his World Cup offer, he stated: "I was keen to play in the World Cup, but I left, I retired.
"It was a very sensitive situation," he added. "For the last three years of my career, I was labelled as a guy who is picking and choosing when I was playing and when not. So I got quite a lot of criticism from back home, which also played a role in me retiring.
"And it was difficult for me to then go 'Hey, but I'll still play the World Cup'. It's that picking and choosing thing again, and it's quite arrogant to do something like that. But as they say, you can't have your bread buttered on both sides."