Emergency services were joined by the RAF and coastguard in searching for the trio along the River Tyne near Riding Mill after they failed to return home on Sunday night.
Two were brothers, aged 41 and 40, and the third was their cousin, aged 36, all from South Shields, South Tyneside.
One expert said last night that he believed they were in the “wrong” type of kayaks for the conditions. Police said an investigation into the circumstances surrounding their deaths was under way and a report would be prepared for the coroner.
It is believed the three men knew the river well, but encountered difficult conditions after heavy rainfall. After receiving a call at 11pm on Sunday, the first body was recovered from the river by a Sea King helicopter from RAF Boulmer at just after 5.10am yesterday morning. The second body was recovered from the river just before 6.20am in the Corbridge area. The third body was found by officers under the Broomhaugh A68 bridge yesterday afternoon.
During searches, one of the missing men’s vehicles was found near Hexham rowing club. A second vehicle belonging to them was found a few hours later at Wylam railway station car park and, later on, two kayaks were retrieved.
Chief Superintendent Gordon Milward said: “The weather was unpredictable, in terms of some very heavy showers, and the river was higher than usual and fast-flowing. They would be challenging conditions for anybody who decided to go into the water.”
Yesterday, a green kayak could be seen on the side of the river at Riding Mill pumping station as the RAF Sea King flew overhead.
Mr Milward spoke of maintaining a difficult balance “between enjoying the river and personal safety”. He added: “Part of the thrill of kayaking is that element of risk. What I would say to anyone is balance that against personal safety. If you are in any doubt about how well equipped you feel, step back and come back another day.”
The senior officer said a large number of specialists had been involved in looking for the missing kayakers and they had done so speedily and thoroughly.
A top canoeing instructor last night said he believed the kayaks involved in the tragedy were of a type which were difficult to control in rough water.
Allen Wearmouth, an experienced outdoor instructor and coach with the British Canoe Union, said photos of the kayaks recovered by the police showed they were like surfboards, where the user sits on top. “If you get rough water, you are going to fall off,” said Mr Wearmouth.
The instructor knew the stretch of the Tyne well and said the water around the weir by the Riding Mill pumping station was lethal in these conditions.
He added: “If a sit-on-top kayak gets into that weir, they are going to capsize – the probability is 100 per cent. This news has taken me aback, it’s so sad.”
Mike Devlin, of the British Canoe Union, said about 1.2 million people in the UK canoe and kayak every year and there are very few deaths. The type of kit used depends on the competence of the person and environmental conditions.