The British fast man was winning his 27th Tour stage, timing his burst perfectly to relegate Germany's Marcel Kittel to second place. World champion Peter Sagan, winner of the green points jersey for the past four years, finished third.
It has moved the 31-year-old Briton to within one of second-placed Bernard Hinault in the all-time stage wins list, with Belgian legend Eddy Merckx in front with 34 victories.
For all his past triumphs, wearing Tour de France yellow was missing from Cavendish's honors list, but the Dimension Data rider was given the perfect lead out by his teammates.
"It was a big goal for Dimension Data to win a stage at the Tour de France," Cavendish told the official Tour website.
"To win a stage is incredible. I'm very emotional for it. It's gonna be a special day tomorrow to ride a stage in yellow. There was no better place to achieve this than Utah Beach where soldiers died for us."
Cavendish takes early edge
The stage in Normandy to one of the landing points for the Allies on D-Day in 1944 went to script with the final two riders of breakaway attempts, Anthony Delaplace and Alex Howe, reeled in with 4.5 kilometers to go.
It left the way for the sprint specialists like Cavendish to battle it out and he will be delighted to have gained an early psychological advantage over the other podium finishers, not to mention fourth-placed Andre Greipel, who took four stages last year.
The race favorites were content to be protected by their teams in the peloton, but two-time champion Alberto Contador was involved in a crash at 107-km and he had fight his way back to the main group with his jersey shredded on the right shoulder.
The Spaniard was "fine" after his spill according to his Tinkoff team.
But not so fortunate was Ireland's Sam Bennett, who went down in a crash during the sprint finish, along with Cavendish's teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen. Bennett injured his spine and finger and went to hospital for X-rays.
Chris Froome of Team Sky is aiming to retain his Tour title on a route which includes nine mountain stages and two individual time trials. He finished safely in 25th on the opening stage.
Cavendish, who won the green points jersey in 2011, has stated his intention to ride all the way the finish in Paris, before looking to win Olympic gold for the first time in the track cycling competition in Rio.
But for now he will be content to know he has lost none of his famed ability to win big stages in road races, with none bigger than the 103rd edition of the Tour de France.