Serena Williams overcame Agnieszka Radwanska to clinch a hard-fought 6-1 5-7 6-2 victory and earn her fifth Wimbledon singles title.
Serena Williams, 30, a winner in 2002, 2003, 2009 and 2010, had eased through the opener with Agnieszka Radwanska rarely threatening to pierce her defences.
But the Pole regrouped as rain delayed the second set, and clawed back a break before swooping late to win the second.
Serena Williams broke twice in the decider to finally kill off Agnieszka Radwanska’s comeback.
It is Serena Williams’ 14th Grand Slam title and her first since spending almost a year out of action between summer 2010 and 2011 with a leg injury and subsequent pulmonary embolism.
“I can’t even describe it. I almost didn’t make it a few years ago,” she said after her win, referring to her health problems.
“I was in hospital but now I’m here again and it was so worth it. I’m so happy.
“Aggie played so well and that’s why she’s had such a great career and she’s so young.”
Such an absorbing finish seemed highly unlikely as Serena Williams demolished Agnieszka Radwanska in the opening set, raising the fear that her opponent was struggling with a respiratory illness that forced her to call off a news conference on Friday.
The world number three seemed to lack the energy to realise her hopes of countering Serena Williams’ clubbing baseline power with guile and touch.
A brief rain shower appeared to have opposite effects on the pair however, as Agnieszka Radwanska emerged revitalized and Serena Williams’ forehand grew increasingly erratic.
Serena Williams broke to love in the third game with a walloped return winner, but her nerves tightened and Agnieszka Radwanska raised her game just in time to avert a seemingly inevitable straight-sets win.
Agnieszka Radwanska forced break point for the first time in the match to level at 4-4 and the crowd threw their support behind her renaissance.
Suddenly Agnieszka Radwanska’s scurrying and fetching was asking questions and Williams, apparently beset by mental demons, crashed into the net from midcourt to send the match into a decider.
Serena Williams had lost only four of the previous 194 Grand Slam matches in which she won the opening set however, and reasserted her authority to protect that record and accelerate away from Agnieszka Radwanska.
Agnieszka Radwanska saw off two break points to hold for a 2-1 lead, but Serena Williams served out in less than a minute in the following game and was not to be denied in the next.
A cute drop shot moved her a double break and 5-2 clear and Serena Williams kept any lingering jitters at bay to serve out before dropping to the turf in delight.
Her victory is the first time the title has been won by a woman over 30 since Martina Navratilova’s triumph in 1990 and restores Victoria Azarenka, the Belarussian she beat in the semi-final, to the world number one spot.
Serena Williams also served a total of 102 aces en route to lifting the Venus Rosewater Dish – more than any other woman has managed in a single Wimbledon campaign.