Dibaba thrillingly outsprinted two other athletes to take top spot on the podium, the first of two victories for the East African country on the final day of competition in Beijing.
For all its long-distance running pedigree, it was the first time Ethiopia had won global gold in a marathon -- and Dibaba did it with a sprint worthy of the six-foot five-inch (1.95m) Bolt, who had streaked along the same stretch of track Saturday to win his third title of the championships as Jamaica took the sprint relay.
Dibaba, who had set the fastest time in the world earlier this year, beat Kenya's Helah Kiprop by a second, while Kenyan-born Bahraini Eunice Kirwa claimed bronze.
All three had entered the Bird's Nest Stadium in contention, with Kenya's Jemima Sumpgong in close pursuit, but it was Dibaba who had the fastest finishing kick.
"I was confident because my last lap is fast," said Dibaba.
Defending champion Edna Kiplagat could only finish fifth, but Kenya did add to its gold medal tally later when Asbel Kiprop defended his men's 1500m title.
It left Kenya on seven golds, the same mark as Jamaica, which continued its dominance of the relay events by upsetting the United States team in the women's 4x400m relay.
Jamaica's Novlene Williams-Mills overtook Francena McCorory in the final 10m of the last leg after individual 400m champion Allyson Felix had run a stunning third leg to give the U.S. the advantage ahead of the final change.
Kenya, by virtue of a greater tally of medals, topped the final medals table from Jamaica, with the U.S. in third.
There was some consolation for the U.S. as LeShawn Merritt anchored his team to the men's 4x400m title ahead of Trinidad and Tobago.
The women's 5,000m also produced a shock as Ethiopia's Genzebe Dibaba, a warm favorite to add to her 1,500m title, was left trailing by compatriot Almaz Ayana.
Dibaba, no relation to marathon winner Mare, had to settle for bronze as another Ethiopian, Senbere Teferi, edged ahead of her in the closing straight.
Derek Drouin of Canada dashed the hopes of defending champion Bohdan Bondarenko to win the men's high jump gold, while Katharina Molitor of Germany took the women's javelin with her final throw of 67.69m, the best in the world this year.