The Light Blues, who raced from the Middlesex station after losing the toss, tasted victory on the Tideway for the first time since 2007. It was a tight and memorable race.
Oxford, who were chasing a hat-trick of victories, attacked Cambridge early and successfully negated the Light Blues' advantage in the first bend.
The crews briefly clashed blades as the race entered the Hammersmith bend, where Cambridge's attempted push last year faltered and ultimately handed victory to Oxford. But this year it was the Dark Blues who failed to make the most of the sweeping middle bend that turned in their favour.
Cambridge kept pace, ensuring Oxford could not extend their lead beyond a quarter of a length. And at Corney Reach, where the river turns back towards the Middlesex bend, Cambridge edged ahead and then pulled clear to win by more than a length.
After two years of Oxford dominance on the Tideway, Cambridge completed a double with Goldie winning the reserve race also from the Middlesex station.
Rob Weitemeyer, the Cambridge bow, was in the blue boat that tasted defeat 12 months ago and he revealed how much the pain of that experience influenced the Light Blues yesterday.
He said: "We really focused hard on the second half of the race. We were well aware from the race last week that if you overcook the race in the first three kilometres it really hits you.
"We worked on economy, getting the most out of our power and staying calm, not needing to be in the lead to know it could come good at the end."
Cambridge's 2009 president Henry Pelly tasted defeat in each of the last two years and said: "I couldn't open my eyes at the finish."
And this year's president Deaglan McEachern described the victory as "affirmation of everything we have been doing all year". He added: "I knew if we stuck at them we would be the crew who would hold on at the end. It was a team effort and we came away with what we thought we would."
Oxford's coach Sean Bowden was happy with his crew's start, as they edged a quarter-length lead heading into the Surrey bend but he soon recognised the writing was on the wall.
The middle section can be worth three-quarters of a length but Oxford could not shake the Cambridge crew.
"It was lost because we didn't get enough on the Surrey bend at Hammersmith," said Bowden. "Up to that point we had done well but Cambridge were physically strong around that bend and you sensed from then on that it would be very tough."