The tearful 28-year-old Real Madrid star, who won the award in 2008, had been the overwhelming favourite to pip Barcelona and Argentina wonder Lionel Messi, winner of the previous four years, and France's Franck Ribery, who claimed the treble with Bayern Munich in 2013.
Ronaldo won with 27.99% of the votes ahead of Messi (24.72%) while Ribery was third (23.36%) according to France Football, co-organisers of the award with FIFA.
Ronaldo, who was widely expected to win after news spread on social media earlier in the day that seven members of his family were joining him in Zurich and his club Real were transmitting the award ceremony live on their official television channel in a change to the programmed schedule, broke down in tears on stage during his victory speech.
Ribery, who won the Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup with Bayern last season, before adding the European Supercup and Club World Cup before the turn of the year, had been the early front-runner.
With 66 goals in 56 matches this year, more than Messi and Ribery's combined 65, no-one could deny Ronaldo was a worthy winner.
It is the second time he has picked up the award and comes in a season in which he won nothing with either club or country, an unusual situation for a Ballon d'Or winner.