The Djokovic serve had been impregnable all week, with barely a sniff of it getting broken, but finally Zverev made the pressure tell at 4-4 when the quality of his returning drew a forehand error from the clearly rattled Djokovic.
If he wins, the 31-year-old will become the oldest player to claim the title.
Yet this was a deserved victory for Zverev, who broke his opponent four times in total and finished the match with a vicious, curling passing shot which could very well have come from the boot of the watching David Beckham.
That is still the test next year but on Sunday he displayed an added sense of maturity, to go with the natural flair and easy power that have marked him out as a future number one.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion was out of the blocks in sensational style this season, defending his Australian Open title and at the age of 36 becoming the oldest world number one in the 45-year history of the ATP rankings.
'Right now, I really can't describe it, ' he said on court after the match. "It is the biggest title I have ever won", said Zverev.
"We have had so many talks, not only about tennis but all different types of subjects".
"I want to apologize for the situation in the tiebreak", said Zverev, who was booed by some of the crowd during his on-court interview.
Often he has asked me about what it takes to win.
For him, it was the first defeat at the tournament in London.
Despite losing against Zverev, Novak has shown over the past week - and few months - that he is back to his very best.
Groundstroke mistakes from Anderson handed Djokovic the break and the 14-time grand slam victor was far less generous in his own service game as he quickly opened up a 2-0 lead.
Nevertheless, at 5-3 Djokovic had the chance to test his raw opponent's nerve further by forcing him to serve out for the title, but Zverev had other ideas.
The world saw a new superstar in tennis arrive on Sunday. I'm quite disappointed with my game.
"Obviously the crowd didn't appreciate it, which I was a little bit upset - not upset, but I was a little bit sad at the end with the booing and reaction of the crowd", said Zverev.
Zverev's dog Lovik has featured on his Instagram page on several occasions and has been known to travel to events with the tall right-hander - the pet was even granted an accreditation pass to the 2015 US Open as the player's "guest".
"Health-wise I haven't been really flawless in the last three or four weeks".
"But I have to be happy with that result".
Federer holds the record for the most weeks at number one (310) but now third in the world, he appears to have accepted that his days of domination are over. I managed to achieve that.