John Terry has been found not guilty of racially abusing QPR's Anton Ferdinand.
Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle delivered his verdict after a five-day trial at Westminster Magistrates Court in London.
He said the case was not about "whether Mr Terry is a racist in the broadest sense of the word", telling the court he had heard "a great deal of evidence to show that he is not".
"It is understandable why Mr Terry wants to make this point - his reputation is at stake," he said.
Terry, 31 - who had denied a racially aggravated public order offence - left the court building within minutes of the verdict being announced. He made no comment to waiting reporters.
He was accused of racially abusing Ferdinand during a match between QPR and Chelsea at Loftus Road in October. He was investigated and charged after a complaint from an off-duty policeman.
Riddle said Terry was a "credible witness" and "nobody has been able to show that he is lying". He told the court: "There is no doubt that John Terry uttered the words 'f****** black c***' at Anton Ferdinand.
"When he did so, he was angry. Mr Ferdinand says that he did not precipitate this comment by himself accusing Mr Terry of calling him a 'black c***'. I accept that it is possible that Mr Terry believed at the time, and believes now, that such an accusation was made.
"Even with all the help the court has received from television footage, expert lip readers, witnesses and indeed counsel, it is impossible to be sure exactly what were [all] the words spoken by Mr Terry at the relevant time. It is impossible to be sure exactly what was said to him at the relevant time by Mr Ferdinand.
"It is therefore possible that what he said was not intended as an insult, but rather as a challenge to what he believed had been said to him.
"For a small part of the relevant time, the camera's view of Mr Terry was obstructed. It is a crucial fact that nobody has given evidence that they heard what Mr Terry said or, more importantly, how he said it. His account has been subject to the most searching and thorough questioning.
"In those circumstances, there being a doubt, the only verdict the court can record is one of not guilty."
The Crown Prosecution Service defended the decision to prosecute Terry. Alison Saunders, the chief Crown Prosecutor for London, said: "The very serious allegation at the heart of this case was one of racial abuse. It was our view that this was not 'banter' on the football pitch and that the allegation should be judged by a court."
Speaking to reporters after the verdict, Terry's lawyer, Dan Morrison, said: "The court has today acquitted John Terry of all charges.
"He has consistently explained his position to the FA, the police and the court. He did not racially abuse Mr Ferdinand, and the court has accepted this."
A Chelsea statement said: "Chelsea Football Club notes and respects Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle's decision to clear John Terry of the charge against him. We are pleased that John can now focus on football and his pre-season preparations with the team."
On Thursday, the court was told Terry had used "straightforward racial abuse" against the QPR defender rather than - as claimed by his representative Keith Cousins on Monday - "rhetorically responding" to what he thought Ferdinand had accused him of saying.
Duncan Penny, prosecuting, had responded to that by saying it was "unlikely" that someone's first reaction to being accused of racist abuse would be to repeat the same words.
Penny told the court that, on Terry's account, Ferdinand had used the words "calling me a black c***".
Terry says he repeated back the slur Ferdinand had accused him of - but that meant he had added the word "f******", Penny said: "If it's rhetorical repetition, why are any other words spoken by Mr Terry at all, beyond a black c***?," he asked.
Terry and Ferdinand had traded abuse in the build-up to the alleged racial insult, the court was told. Ferdinand taunted Terry about his alleged affair with team-mate Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend, while Terry implied that the QPR player had bad breath.
Penny said it was unlikely that Ferdinand would have had the "motivation or frankly the sophistication" in the heat of the moment to fabricate an allegation that Terry had used racial abuse.
George Carter-Stephenson QC, for Terry, said the prosecution case was based on "speculation". "This is not a case about racism," he told the court. "The prosecution, in cross-examination, conceded that he is not a racist.
"The way that this case is put is that on this occasion, Mr Terry completely lost his cool and made an inappropriate remark making reference to a physical characteristic of Mr Ferdinand, namely his colour, in response to words conceded to have been repeated taunts and insults referring to his alleged affair with Mr Bridge's partner."
He said that, other than the Chelsea defender's own account, there was no direct evidence of what he had said, and described Ferdinand as an "unreliable" witness who he said had lost his cool as he repeatedly insulted Terry during the match.
"No matter what the words actually were, if they were or may have been Mr Terry repeating back what he believed Mr Ferdinand had accused him of, then that's the end of this particular case," he said.
On Wednesday, Ashley Cole, also 31 - who played in the same defence as Terry that afternoon - told the court: "I think we shouldn't be sitting here." The left-back stressed that while racism should never be tolerated, someone repeating something they thought had been said to them was "completely different". He described Terry as an "inspirational" captain.
On Tuesday, the court heard that Terry told FA investigator Jennifer Kennedy in an interview a week after the allegations were made that racism was "not my character at all" and that being called a racist was something he was "not prepared to take".
On the first day of the trial, the court heard that Ferdinand at first did not think any racist insult had been used. He shook hands with Terry and accepted that their clash was "handbags'' and "banter''.
But after the match, his then girlfriend showed him a clip of their exchange posted on YouTube, and he believed Terry had used the racist obscenity. Ferdinand told the court that, if he had realised at the time, he would have told officials.