Clarke (74) and Steve Smith (56 not out), the current and the likely future captains, spearheaded Australia to the winning target of 184 in the 34th over to capture its record-extending fifth World Cup title.
Clarke, who played in the winning team in 2007, was bowled by Matt Henry nine runs short of the target in his 245th and last one-day international.
Australia’s left-arm pacemen did the damage early. Mitchell Starc (2-20), Mitchell Johnson (3-30) and James Faulkner (3-36) combined to dismiss previously unbeaten tournament co-host New Zealand for 183 in 45 overs.
“I wish (Clarke) was out there with me at the end, but what a fitting farewell,” Smith said. “Unbelievable feeling to win this. The bowlers really set it up for us – they’ve done it all tournament.”
Starc removed skipper Brendon McCullum for a duck in the first over after New Zealand won the toss and elected to bat in its first away game of the tournament.
New Zealand slipped to 39-3 in the 13th over, and recovered in a 111-run stand between Grant Elliott (83) and Ross Taylor (40) before Faulkner triggered the rapid demise with two wickets in three balls in a period when Australia took three wickets for one run in eight deliveries.
The last seven New Zealand wickets fell for 33 runs.
Not to be counted out, having bowled out Australia for 151 in a one-wicket pool win at Auckland a month ago, New Zealand took a wicket in the second over to make the chase more interesting.
Trent Boult, who took 5-27 against Australia in Auckland, took a return catch to remove Aaron Finch (0) with the total at 2, but David Warner (45) and Smith steadied the chase with a 61-run partnership in 64 balls.
Warner hit seven boundaries and faced 46 balls before getting cramped for room trying to pull Henry and top-edging to Elliott.
His dismissal brought Clarke to the crease to raucous cheering from the crowd of 93,013, and the 33-year-old skipper shared a 112-run partnership with Smith to remove any doubt about the result.
The New Zealanders had been the story of the tournament, led by McCullum’s enterprising captaincy. On home turf, though, it was Clarke who had the better of the first exchange, with his bowling changes netting wickets quickly, and his fielding changes cutting down the run flow and contributing to dismissals.
Starc, who took 6-28 to keep Australia in the contest against New Zealand at Auckland and had 20 wickets coming into the final, ensured New Zealand made the worst possible start to the final.
He beat the edge of McCullum’s bat twice before bowling the dangerous opener for a third-ball duck to make the total 1-1.
The pacemen dried up the runs and were beating the edge, but it was Glenn Maxwell who made the next big breakthrough when he bowled Martin Guptill (15), the tournament’s leading scorer with 547 runs, with his second delivery.
Guptill, who scored 57, 105, a World Cup-record unbeaten 237, and 34 in his previous four innings, survived 11 overs against the pace battery but succumbed immediately to spin.
Elliott and Taylor helped New Zealand avoid Pakistan’s 132 in the 1999 loss to Australia as the lowest total in a World Cup final – but it could have been worse.
Elliott was on 15 when he was adjudged lbw to Maxwell in the 20th over with the total at 66-3, but New Zealand reviewed the decision and replays showed the ball was missing leg stump.
Taylor faced 72 balls before edging a wider ball from Faulkner at the start of the batting power play, and was well caught by wicketkeeper Brad Haddin.
Faulkner bowled Corey Anderson (0), and Luke Ronchi (0) was caught at slip to give Starc his 22nd wicket of the tournament.
Daniel Vettori, playing the last international game of his 18-year career, couldn’t hang around with Elliott long enough to continue the kind of late partnership that helped New Zealand to a next-to-last-ball semifinal win over South Africa.
India defended 183 to win the 1983 World Cup title against the West Indies, but New Zealand always faced an uphill battle at the MCG.