The joint-second highest-scoring final in World Cup history had a bit of everything - including an own goal, a controversial VAR-awarded penalty and a goalkeeping howler - but France eventually emerged victorious to lift the trophy for only the second time in their history.
Antoine Griezmann's contentious spot kick - which was awarded by referee Nestor Pitana after a lengthy VAR deliberation - put France back in front going into half time, and goals from Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe effectively wrapped up the victory in the second half.
A Hugo Lloris error which saw him gift Mandzukic a goal almost handed Croatia a route back into the match with just over 20 minutes remaining, but France saw the game out to repeat their heroics of 1998 and become only the sixth team to have won the trophy more than once.
Both managers named unchanged teams from their semi-final successes, and despite being taken to extra time in all three of their knockout games - in addition to having less rest than their opponents - it was Croatia that made the brighter start to the game.
Zlatko Dalic's side harried France in possession and gave them very little time on the ball, winning it back in a number of promising positions but failing to turn those into clear chances.
Indeed, it was France that took the lead with their first meaningful attack of the game when Griezmann won a soft free kick and subsequently clipped a cross into the box which Mandzukic - the extra-time hero in the semi-final against England just four days ago - could only glance into his own net.
In doing so Mandzukic became the first player to ever score an own goal in a World Cup final, but it was a familiar position for Croatia, who had already achieved the unprecedented feat of reaching the showpiece despite having trailed in all three of their knockout games.
Croatia did get their deserved equaliser shortly before the half-hour mark when France failed to clear their lines from a cross into the box, allowing Vida to knock the ball back for Perisic, who skipped past N'Golo Kante before hammering his effort beyond Lloris via a slight deflection off Raphael Varane.
The biggest talking point of the first half arrived 10 minutes later, though, as France regained their lead in controversial fashion, with VAR used in a World Cup final for the first time ever.
Whether it was used correctly or not will be the subject of intense debate for a long time to come, though, with referee Nestor Pitana choosing to overrule his initial decision on review and award France the penalty for a handball against Perisic after Blaise Matuidi had missed his header at the near post.
Griezmann was forced to wait a long time before eventually taking the spot kick, but he kept his cool and sent Danijel Subasic the wrong way to restore France's lead.
Croatia again responded well to falling behind, with Ante Rebic squandering a good chance when he mis-hit a shot after being found inside the area, sending the ball bobbling tamely into the arms of the keeper.
Dalic's side went into the break slightly unfortunate to find themselves behind, but they made a bright start to the second half too and it took a sharp fingertip save from Lloris to deny Rebic's goalbound effort just three minutes after the restart.
The pace of Mbappe provided a useful outlet for France during their time on the back foot, and he burst past Vida to create a chance for himself in the 52nd minute, only for Subasic to come out quickly and thwart the youngster.
France's third goal also came against the run of play, though, with Pogba giving his side a two-goal cushion shortly before the hour mark.
The Manchester United midfielder started the move with a fine through-ball to Mbappe, who combined with Griezmann to lay the ball back to the edge of the box. Pogba saw his first effort blocked, but the ball bounced back out to him and he swept a left-footed strike past a wrong-footed Subasic.
The third goal appeared to take the wind out of Croatia's sails and France immediately went looking for more, effectively putting the game to bed after 65 minutes when Mbappe joined Pele as the only teenagers to have ever scored in the World Cup final.
The 19-year-old was given the time and space to pick his spot from 25 yards out and duly drilled his effort into the bottom corner to cap off a sensational individual tournament.
It looked as though Croatia's chances had been dashed by the 19-year-old's strike, but they were gifted a glimmer of hope just four minutes later when Lloris inexplicably tried to take the ball past Mandzukic inside his own six-yard box, allowing the Croatia striker to tackle him and score, somewhat atoning for his earlier own goal.
France had shown in their knockout victories over Uruguay and Belgium that they are adept at seeing out a result, though, and that proved to be the case again as they controlled the remainder of the match and prevented Croatia from creating any more chances.
Indeed, it was France themselves who had the best chance of the closing stages when Pogba was left unmarked inside the area, but he completely missed his kick when he should have scored.
Nothing could dampen the French spirits, though, and the final whistle was greeted by jubilant scenes as France celebrated their historic success, with manager Didier Deschamps becoming only the third man - after Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer - to win the World Cup as both a player and a coach.
Croatia, meanwhile, miss out on the chance to become only the ninth different team to win the trophy, but have still recorded their best-ever World Cup showing this summer.
FRANCE (4-4-2): Lloris; Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Hernandez; Mbappe, Pogba, Kante (N'Zonzi 55'), Matuidi (Tolisso 73'); Griezmann, Giroud (Fekir 81')
CROATIA (4-5-1): Subasic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic (Pjaca 81'); Rebic (Kramaric 71'), Modric, Brozovic, Rakitic, Perisic; Mandzukic