New Zealand celebrate their victory
England: (3) 17
Tries: Penalty, Clayton
Cons: Andrew, Rae
New Zealand: (10) 25
Tries: Codling, Mortimer, Heighway, Marsh
New Zealand held off a brave challenge from England to claim a third consecutive Women's Rugby World Cup.
Fly-half Karen Andrew kicked an early penalty but England, despite dominating most of the first half, trailed 10-3 after a try from lock Monalisa Codling.
Wing Stephanie Mortimer added a second to put New Zealand in command but England hit back with a penalty try.
Helen Clayton's late score gave them hope after Victoria Heighway's try for the Black Ferns, who had the last word.
They finally ended England's resistance with a fourth try from full-back Amiria Marsh four minutes into injury-time.
England put us under so much pressure and that makes victory even sweeter
It left Geoff Richards' side shattered after a monumental effort, but New Zealand, inspired by fly-half Anna Richards, deserved victory.
The favourites were under the cosh early on though as England tore into them from the outset, charging down two kicks in the opening minute.
They were rewarded with a firmly-struck penalty from Andrew in the fourth minute, and spent the majority of the opening half-hour camped in the Black Ferns half.
But despite the line-out work of Jenny Sutton, the driving of prop Rochelle Clark and the midfield darts of Sue Day, England could not turn their territorial advantage into more points.
England centre Sue Day feels the full force of New Zealand's tackling
Emma Jensen's penalty after 26 minutes to level the scores was against the run of play, but having withstood England's onslaught, New Zealand's confidence grew.
Richards, centre Exia Edwards and wing Mortimer started to make inroads with their running from deep, and Jensen hooked a further penalty chance.
But a cross-kick from full-back Marsh brought the opening try two minutes before the break, a smart off-load from flanker Melissa Ruscoe sending Codling racing away to score.
Jensen's touchline conversion made it 10-3, but if that was harsh on the balance of play, England were dealt another body blow just 47 seconds into the second half as New Zealand scored their second try.
After a break from prop Casey Robertson, the impressive Ruscoe handed off England number eight Cath Spencer before off-loading to Mortimer to touch down in the left corner.
Jensen missed the conversion, but at 15-3 down the game was threatening to run away from England.
But the underdogs hit back immediately, and their superior forward power yielded a penalty try after 48 minutes following a series of scrums close to the New Zealand line.
It is an amazing feeling to win it again. It was a really intense game
Andrew's conversion brought it back to 15-10, but the Black Ferns stepped up a gear to dominate the final quarter.
Mortimer was denied a second try by a last-ditch tackle from England full-back Charlotte Barras, but the pressure told seven minutes from time when New Zealand lock Heighway was driven over from a line-out.
At 20-10 the match appeared over, but replacement flanker Clayton stretched over from a driven scrum in the final minute of normal time, Shelley Rae's conversion making it 20-17.
But New Zealand broke away to score again through Marsh, and this time there was no way back for England.
England: Charlotte Barras; Danielle Waterman, Sue Day, Kim Oliver, Kim Shaylor; Karen Andrew, Jo Yapp (capt); Rochelle Clark, Amy Garnett, Vanessa Gray; Jennifer Sutton, Jenny Lyne; Georgia Stevens, Margaret Alphonsi, Catherine Spencer.
Replacements: Selena Rudge, Vanessa Huxford, Tamara Taylor, Helen Clayton, Amy Turner, Shelley Rae, Nicky Crawford.
New Zealand: Amiria Marsh; Claire Richardson, Huriana Manuel, Exia Edwards, Stephanie Mortimer; Anna Richards, Emma Jensen; Diane Maliukaetau, Farah Palmer (capt), Casey Robertson, Monalisa Codling, Victoria Heighway, Melissa Ruscoe, Rochelle Martin, Linda Itunu.
Replacements: Fiao'o Fa'amausili, Helen Vaaga, Kimberly Smith, Shannon Willoughby, Waimania Teddy, Rebecca Hull, Hannah Myers.
Referee: Simon McDowell (Ireland)