The 21-year-old Czech, a semi-finalist at the All England Club last year, produced a brilliant display of power hitting to run out a 6-3 6-4 winner on Centre Court.
Sharapova had been hoping to clinch her second Wimbledon title, seven years after her surprise triumph as a 17-year-old, but a fragile serve let her down in the opening set and, although she fought hard in the second, it was not enough.
Kvitova struggled to hold back the tears as she said: “It’s hard to find the words. To stand with the trophy and see great champions in the Royal Box. Of course I was nervous, I thought I could win Wimbledon, but I had to focus on every point.”
For Sharapova, back in a grand slam final for the first time since being struck down by shoulder problems in 2008, it was a bittersweet occasion.
She said to Kvitova: “Unfortunately in tennis there’s only one winner so big congratulations, you played a great tournament.
“To be back and holding the runner-up trophy, obviously I would have wanted that big one but it’s something I’ll be back to try to get soon.”
Sharapova had started slowly in her semi-final against Sabine Lisicki but there was no repeat on Saturday, with the fifth seed hitting cleanly off the ground straight away and breaking serve in the opening game.
Kvitova responded immediately with a break of her own and she then saved a break point to move 2-1 in front as the pair traded shots at a ferocious pace.
The most telling statistic in Sharapova’s match with Lisicki had been the double-fault count, with the 24-year-old triumphing despite throwing in 13, so all eyes were on her serve on Saturday.
And it let her down badly in the sixth game, with two consecutive double faults handing Kvitova the break. The 21-year-old Czech had no such problems and she piled the pressure on again in Sharapova’s next service game.
This time the shot stood just about firm, and she saved a first set point with an ace, but Kvitova quickly moved to 40-0 on her serve and took her second chance when Sharapova netted a return.
The eighth seed appeared nerveless in her first grand slam final and, when a fifth double fault from Sharapova brought up another break point in the opening game of the second set, she seized her chance with a pinpoint forehand winner.
The Russian is one of the game’s renowned fighters and she found a moment of inspiration to level at 2-2, lobbing a Kvitova drive back beyond the despairing reach of her opponent.
Brilliant though it was, Sharapova should not have been given any chance, but Kvitova made up for it in a lengthy fifth game with a series of crunching forehands, hitting a clean return winner on her second break point.
It was a compelling contest between two players who were holding nothing back, and it was all square again when Kvitova overcooked a simple forehand and then could do nothing about a backhand return from Sharapova.
Serve was becoming more of a hindrance than a help and Kvitova promptly made it four breaks in a row to take a 4-3 lead.
This time she held on, helped by some overhitting from Sharapova, to move to within sight of the winning line.
The former champion forced Kvitova to serve it out, but there were no wobbles from the novice, who clinched victory with an ace on her first match point before dropping to the turf in celebration.