Ronnie O'Sullivan won his fifth World Championship crown with an 18-12 victory over a game Barry Hawkins.
Defending champion O'Sullivan played magnificently, compiling a new record of six centuries in a Crucible final.
But world number 14 Hawkins, who many thought would be blown away, played his part with some quality snooker himself.
O'Sullivan is only the third man to retain the title at the venue and his victory will go down as one of the great sporting comebacks.
"That is the hardest anyone has pushed me," he said in paying tribute to a "brilliant tournament" from Hawkins. "I just couldn't get rid of him but I hung in there. It was a brilliant final and it was just good to be part of it."
The 37-year-old had played one competitive match - last September - after taking some time away from the game following his fourth world title last year.
Asked beforehand what chance Kent left-hander Hawkins had of beating O'Sullivan, seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry said: "None."
But Hawkins, an 80-1 shot before the tournament started, was not overawed on Sunday, playing his part in two high-quality sessions.
O'Sullivan, however, played some of his most fluent snooker of the tournament, making four century breaks to surpass Hendry's previous record of 127 at the Crucible and take a 10-7 overnight lead.
Hawkins, 34, nicked the first frame on Monday but, as has been the case throughout the tournament, O'Sullivan immediately responded, rattling in a break of 76 to make it 11-8.
The next frame was key, a superb clearance of 55 putting O'Sullivan 12-8 up, although Hawkins rallied with a break of 90 to make it 12-9.
A run of 133 in the next frame saw O'Sullivan become only the fourth player, after Hendry (1997), John Higgins (1998) and Matthew Stevens (2000), to make five tons in a Crucible final.
And when O'Sullivan won frame 23 to go 14-9 ahead it appeared that Hawkins's resolve was wilting.
But Hawkins, who had never been beyond the second round before this year, made it 14-10 courtesy of a break of 67, only for O'Sullivan to hit back with a record-breaking clearance of 124.
Hawkins mustered a classy run of 127 to bring the total of centuries in the final to a record-equalling eight, making it 15-11 before following up with a break of 66 for 15-12.
But once again O'Sullivan found another gear, pouncing on a missed red along the cushion by Hawkins and knocking in a break of 77 for 16-12.
A break of 88 left O'Sullivan needing one more frame to win the match and he took it with a run of 86 to finish in style.
"He is unbelievable," said Hawkins. "The way he makes it look so easy is frightening for most players, so I am glad I made a game of it and pushed him a bit.
"I tried my hardest but I just made a few more mistakes than Ronnie and you cannot afford to do that against him.
"It is a shame I lost, but Ronnie is by far the best player in the world."