Red Bull driver Verstappen trailed Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton for most of the race at the Yas Marina Circuit. But a fortuitous crash by Nicholas Latifi with five laps to go brought out the safety car and the championship battle took a new turn as race director Michael Masi decided to let all lapped cars pass before resuming racing.
That allowed Verstappen, who was on fresher and faster tyres after a strategic pit stop, chase down Hamilton to win the race and the driver's championship.
"It's unbelievable," said the 24-year-old Verstappen. "Throughout the whole race I kept fighting then there was the opportunity in the last lap, it's incredible.
"I don't know what to say. My team and Honda deserve it."
Verstappen also thanked his teammate Sergio Perez, who played a key part in the win, and his Red Bull team.
"Finally a bit of luck for me. I also want to say thank you to Checo [Perez], he's been a brilliant teammate.
"My team know I love them. I hope we can do this for 10, 15 years together. I don't want to change ever. I want to stay with them for the rest of my life, if they will have me."
The enthralling race was witnessed by a number of famous names. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, were at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Also present were former US President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka, sprint great Usain Bolt, West Indies cricket icon Chris Gayle, and actor Gerard Butler, among others.