The Dutch star, 26, erased the memories of last year's tears in defeat to Phil Taylor with a magical display to defeat Wade, the 2007 World Matchplay winner who was seeking his second Blackpool title.
Wade had ended Taylor's seven-year reign as World Matchplay champion in Saturday's semi-finals, but was unable to repeat the performance against the world number one as van Gerwen scooped the £100,000 first prize.
After sharing the first ten legs, a five-leg burst from van Gerwen - including checkouts of 127 and 144 - saw him pull clear to lead 10-6 and take a cushion which he would never relinquish as he charged to glory.
"This is fantastic, amazing for me and it's a wish come true," said an emotional van Gerwen afterwards. "It means a lot to me because after the World Championship this is the biggest ranking event.
"It's totally different to last year. Everybody could see how emotional I was after that game and it means a lot to me to win this trophy.
"I knew what I had to do but we both struggled a bit and couldn't get going for some reason, maybe the pressure of holding this title. James' scoring power wasn't there and he was hanging in there in the game with his finishing.
"He's a difficult player to play against but my scoring was loads better than James' and I wanted to take advantage of that. It doesn't matter how you win a final, to win a final feels great."
After celebrating in front of a capacity 2,000 fans in Blackpool, he added: "The crowd were fantastic and I'm really glad to have won this trophy in front of a crowd like this."
An edgy opening saw van Gerwen break throw immediately before Wade levelled with a 68 finish and then took out double six to lead 2-1.
Van Gerwen fired in a 180, the first of four in as many legs, as he took the fourth, but Wade punished missed doubles from the Dutchman to take a 4-2 cushion.
The tables were turned as Wade missed tops in the seventh leg to allow van Gerwen back in on double 16 before tops from the Dutchman levelled, and the next two were shared before a 107 finish put the 2007 champion 6-5 up.
Van Gerwen's response, though, was clinical as he took out 127 for a 12-darter to level, double eight and double 16 to move 8-6 up, a fabulous 144 finish and 80 on double ten to win five straight legs and open up a 10-6 lead in the blink of an eye.
Wade took two of the next three, despite a 13-darter from van Gerwen, before a missed bullseye from the left-hander for a 167 finish allowed the Dutchman to land double 18 for a 12-8 advantage.
Although Wade took the next to punish missed doubles from van Gerwen, the top seed finished 72 to restore his lead and double 16 in successive legs to move 15-9 up.
Wade claimed two of the next three to stay in the hunt, but an eighth 180 of the game helped van Gerwen move 17-11 up, and despite double ten keeping the left-hander's hopes alive, another maximum helped him set up tops for a 14-darter to seal glory.
Wade's defeat saw him lose out for a fifth time in the final in Blackpool, and he conceded: "It's an honour to be in the final but I let myself down a little bit. From start to finish I struggled, and I wasn't good enough.
"I'm devastated, because I know I was good enough to win that final but I laid down and got steamrollered.
"I'm happy to be in the final and to mix it with the best players in the world again, but I'm not happy with how I played. It's almost as if someone cut my arm off, and the most simple shots became hard work.
"I expected Michael to come out all guns blazing and he didn't do it, but he did it when it mattered. He's a true champion and he did a job against me and won quite comfortably.
"I'm really happy with how it's gone this week and I can take positives from the other games this week, but hats off to Michael."
Van Gerwen's victory also means that he has moved, for the second time, beyond £1 million on the PDC Order of Merit after taking his prize money in ranking events for the past two years to £1,059,750.
Van Gerwen was also immediately installed as the 13/8 favourite with sponsors BetVictor to retain the World Matchplay title next summer.
BetVictor World Matchplay
Sunday July 26
Michael van Gerwen 18-12 James Wade
Michael van Gerwen v James Wade
0-0 - James Wade has won the bullseye and will throw first.
1-0 - van Gerwen breaks throw, with Wade missing the bull to allow the Dutchman to finish a superb 13-darter on double 18.
1-1 - van Gerwen lands the game's first 180, but misses double 18 to finish 109 as Wade steps in to break with a 68 finish to level on double five.
1-2 - Double six sees Wade move ahead.
2-2 - van Gerwen opens with a maximum before finishing double eight to square the game.
2-3 - The Dutchman lands his third 180, but misses three darts at double nine across two visits to claim another break of throw, allowing Wade in on double ten to regain the edge.
2-4 - Both players fire in maximums before another miss from van Gerwen - as he wires tops to finish 80 - allows Wade to take out a two-dart 61 combination on double 18 for another break.
3-4 - van Gerwen posts his fifth 180 of the game before Wade this time wires tops for an 80 finish, with the Dutchman stepping in to break back with a 68 checkout on double 16.
4-4 - van Gerwen finishes 56 on tops to hit back.
4-5 - Both players miss their chance to take the leg across two visits before Wade finally pins double one to avoid a break.
5-5 - Wade wires the bullseye for a 161 checkout, and van Gerwen lands tops to level once more.
5-6 - van Gerwen lands a 174 score to leave 146, but misses double 16 to finish the combination as Wade steps up to take out 107 on tops.
6-6 - The world number one replies with a 127 checkout.
7-6 - van Gerwen finishes a third-dart double eight to break throw and move back ahead.
8-6 - Double 16 sees van Gerwen move two legs clear of his rival.
9-6 - van Gerwen claims his fourth successive leg with a brilliant 144 checkout.
10-6 - van Gerwen kicks off with a maximum before finishing 80 on double ten to win his fifth straight leg.
10-7 - van Gerwen opens with a 177 score, but Wade finishes 68 on double ten to hit back with his first leg in six.
11-7 - The Dutchman begins a third successive leg with a "maximum" as he hits a seventh 180, and though Wade replies with a 174 score, van Gerwen finishes double eight for a 13-darter.
11-8 - Wade lands a 180 as he responds with his eighth leg of the game.
12-8 - Wade misses the bull to take out 167, and van Gerwen lands double 18 for a 14-darter to regain his four-leg cushion.
12-9 - Wade's revival continues as he punishes van Gerwen's missed doubles by landing double ten.
13-9 - van Gerwen finishes 72 on double 12 to move five legs away from the title.
14-9 - van Gerwen claims a big break of throw, initially missing the bull for a 170 finish before returning to land double 16, leaving Wade waiting on 16.
15-9 - Double 16 for a 14-darter moves van Gerwen three legs away from claiming glory.
15-10 - van Gerwen misses tops for a 120 finish, and Wade replies on double five.
16-10 - Double 16 sees van Gerwen edge towards victory.
16-11 - Wade pins double ten to hit back again.
17-11 - van Gerwen lands his eighth 180 before finishing 58 to move a leg away from the title.
17-12 - Wade lands his third 180 of the game as double ten keeps his hopes alive.
18-12 - van Gerwen lands his ninth 180 of the game before finishing tops for a 14-darter to complete glory and become the BetVictor World Matchplay champion.