John Higgins held off a dogged fightback from Mark Selby to claim his second World Snooker Championship title at The Crucible.
Higgins last won the title in 1998
Selby began the day seemingly out of it at 12-4 down but won all six afternoon frames to cut the deficit to 12-10.
The match became a war of attrition as the players went eight straight frames without a break over 50.
Selby moved to within one at 14-13, but Higgins refound his form to claim four straight frames for an 18-13 victory.
"I'm shattered," said a relieved Higgins after securing the win. "At 14-13 I was ready to throw the towel in because Mark was coming back superbly.
"I don't know how I did it. To come back under that sort of pressure was the best I have played in my life.
"I thought I might burst into tears but I feel calm. I might have one glass of champagne just to toast the win."
To join people like Ronnie O'Sullivan and Mark Williams, it's a special feeling for me
The match produced the latest finish to a world final in history, narrowly beating the 12.52am climax to the Graeme Dott-Peter Ebdon showdown 12 months ago.
But at one stage it looked like it could threaten the latest finish to any match at The Crucible - 3.51am for the Cliff Thorburn-Terry Griffiths encounter in 1983.
Only six of the eight scheduled afternoon frames were possible because of the slow rate of play, with the players taken off to ensure they had a break before the evening.
"I was so delighted," Higgins admitted later. "If we had stayed on, Mark would have definitely made it 12-12 because I was gone at that stage."
Selby had breaks of 109, 65 and 62 in three of the afternoon's first four frames, but as the tensioned increased the breaks decreased and the match turned into a marathon.
I didn't really think I could win it, but when I got back to 12-10, I was believing I could
Higgins finally got his first frame of the day as the players returned for the evening session to make the score 13-10.
But Selby would not let him off the hook and ground out three of the next four to close within one at 14-13.
Higgins won a crucial 28th frame to move two in front once more, and he finally got back into his rhythm as he closed out the match with breaks of 57, 129 and 77.
"I played him here two years ago and - he won't mind me saying it - he wasn't that good!" joked Higgins, before describing Selby as "a future world champion" and saying "the sky's the limit for him".
Selby, who admitted to fatigue on the first day of the final after his epic semi-final win over Shaun Murphy, said he gave it all he could after starting the day so far behind.
"From 12-4 down when I came out this morning, I said to myself I'm going to give it my best shot," he said.
"I didn't really think I could win it, but when I got back to 12-10, I was believing I could.
"At 14-13 I thought I was in with a chance but I could just never get level. Hopefully I can come back next year and give it a better shot but overall, I am really proud of myself."
Higgins, who claimed the £220,000 first prize, will start next season as world number one but was more pleased to have emulated some of his distinguished peers.
"To join people like Ronnie O'Sullivan and Mark Williams (who have both won two titles) is a special feeling for me," he said. "This is the second one and hopefully there'll be a third and fourth and so on."
John Higgins (Sco) 18-13 Mark Selby (Eng)
73-25 58-32 19-95 25-76 (67) 10-132 (116) 97-0 (97) 98-11 86-5 75-0 (75) 85-9 (70) 101-24 (100) 70-61 59-75 (Higgins 58) 98-0 78-55 (Higgins 53) 116-0 (106) 36-73 0-110 (109) 35-65 (65) 4-74 (62) 0-66 48-72 81-40 63-70 75-2 22-82 54-77 71-33 57-43 (57) 129-1 (129) 78-1 (78)