Prop Tony Woodcock scored New Zealand’s only try, while replacement fly-half Stephen Donald hit a penalty in the second half.
But France defied their critics – who lambasted their semi-final win and described them as the worst team ever to make a final – hit back with a try by captain Thierry Dusautoir and conversion by François Trinh-Duc.
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw declared that he was “proud of every single one of the guys”.
"You've got to be warriors to win this and keep getting up and keep getting up, believing in your mate beside you, trusting him to do his job and making sure you do yours,” he said. “All 30 guys, plus the management, everyone did their part.”
"I'm so proud to be a New Zealander standing here,” commented coach Graham Henry. "There was a bit of turmoil up there in the coaching box, but Richie and the boys just hanging in there right through 80 minutes to win this thing is superb. This is something we've dreamed of for a while, we can rest in peace."
The two men were in the same jobs when New Zealand lost to France in Cardiff four years ago.
Dusautoir declared he was proud of his teammates, adding “we proved a lot of people wrong today”.