In a game when a record number of yellow cards were given and John Heitinga was sent off in extra-time, both sides missed great chances from Arjen Robben and Cesc Fabregas, but Andres Iniesta netted in the 116th minute to give European champions Spain their first World Cup title.
Iniesta struck with four minutes remaining to settle a tetchy encounter and crown Spain world champions, while Netherlands were left to rue Robben's missed opportunity to open the scoring in normal time.
The game will be noted for the flurry of cards - 14 in all - starting in the 14th minute when Howard Webb booked Robin van Persie.
Pretty soon combative midfield duo Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong joined him for challenges - a late lunge on Joan Capdevila and a kung fu kick on Xabi Alonso respectively - that could easily have ended their evening.
That Wesley Sneijder was not even cautioned for a similarly woeful attempt at stopping Pedro could only be put down to either Webb being unsighted or the Dutch playmaker diverting attention by claiming to be injured himself.
Spain were not complete innocents in all of this, but it was the European Champions who were feeling most aggrieved, which only intensified when Webb did not see a niggly second-half challenge from Van Bommel that sparked a reaction from Barcelona playmaker Iniesta.
It certainly made for unsightly viewing at times, but Vicente del Bosque's side did play some exquisite passing football at times, with Xavi and Iniesta helping Spain dominate possession. The best first-half chance fell to Sergio Ramos but his header from Xavi's cross was palmed away superbly by Maarten Stekelenburg.
Netherlands struggled to get into the game but in the second-half were handed a golden opportunity to take the lead; Spain skipper Iker Casillas making a quite brilliant save to deny Robben after the former Chelsea star had been set free by Sneijder.
Robben must have thought he had done everything right. Running at pace - past a stranded Carles Puyol - until he saw the whites of Casillas' eyes, he shaped to go one way, then placed his shot to the other corner. Casillas was committed in the other direction but stuck out a leg and turned the effort wide.
It was by some distance the best opportunity of the regulation 90 minutes, although Ramos had another decent opening himself heading umarked over the bar.
Robben threatened to sprint through again, only to be denied by Casillas, but losing possession did not come before Puyol had made a desperate grab for the Bayern Munich winger, who was convinced the Barcelona defender should have been sent off.
On as a substitute, with a point to prove after mustering the grand total of 93 minutes prior to tonight, Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas twice came close to breaking the deadlock in extra-time, when Xavi also had a penalty claim turned down.
John Heitinga was sent off for his second yellow card when he pulled back Iniesta, giving Spain the man advantage, yet the Dutch held firm and looked like taking the tie to penalties.
However, Spain were not to be denied. Fabregas slotted it through to Iniesta and after one touch to control it, his second was a crisp volley past Stekelenburg.
Del Bosque's side held on and the final whistle saw euphoric scenes as Spain's ecstatic players celebrated an inaugural World Cup triumph.