Ward thanked his professional dance partner, Kym Johnson, calling her "an amazing teacher."
"I want to thank all the fans," a beaming Ward said, shortly before being handed the mirror ball trophy.
The Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver had been battling it out with Disney Channel star Chelsea Kane and actress Kirstie Alley in the competition's final three.
Kane and partner Mark Ballas took third place, and Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy came in second.
"It's like the most extraordinary adventure I've ever been on in my life," Alley said after the results were announced at the end of the two-hour finale, during which the earlier castoffs came back to perform one last time.
After two performances Monday night, Ward and Kane had been tied in judges' scores with a total of 59 out of a possible 60 points. Alley had a total of 54 points.
Last night, the three were given the choice to dance their favorite routine from the season. Alley chose the cha-cha, Ward did the samba and Kane selected the Viennese waltz. Each couple earned a perfect score of 30 for their performance.
"Bellissima! Bravissima!" judge Bruno Tonioli said of Kane's routine.
The other judges were as pleased with the routines. Carrie Ann Inaba told Ward that he was "the MVP" of this season, while Len Goodman said Alley was resilient and overcame setbacks.
Eleven celebrities had vied for the championship.
This years' cast included actor Ralph Macchio, rapper/actor Romeo, former champion boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, TV personality Kendra Wilkinson and TV/radio talk show host Wendy Williams.
The season premiered Monday, March 21. Each week, the stars and their professional partners performed in one show, and the following night one couple was eliminated.
This season has certainly had moments that have set the blogosphere abuzz.
Macchio started out a favorite of the judges and viewers, but his performance suffered following an injury to his leg. His partner, Karina Smirnoff, fell during one of their performances.
When Johnson was taken to a hospital in an ambulance after a practice routine went horribly wrong and she fell on her neck -- with Ward falling on top of her -- there was some doubt as to whether the injury would prevent her from performing.
The pair never missed a beat. They performed the next show as scheduled, and won raves for their routines.
Alley set the Internet ablaze when she and her partner fell during one of their performances early on in the competition. A shoe fell off during a subsequent performance.
Despite those setbacks, judges praised Alley for improved technique and the actress has remained an audience favorite. Her markedly slimmer figure has impressed viewers and judges alike.
Tonioli was prompted to exclaim after of Alley's performances: "Your body is shrinking, your talent is huge!"
Her premiere night costume -- which she also wore light night to reprise her first number -- had to be taken in 38 inches, the former star of "Cheers" and "Fat Actress" told The Associated Press.
Last night's show also included musical performances from the Black Eyed Peas, the Go-Go's and Sara Evans.