Wawrinka was playing in his first Grand Slam final against a man in his 19th final who has won 13 major titles previously, but the Swiss eighth-seed had played the best tennis of his career to make the final and wasn’t about to let up in the decider.
The 28-year-old raced through the opening set winning it six games to three dominating the world No. 1 and then the drama began with Nadal hampered by a back complaint.
He took an injury time-out early in the second set and then returned barely able to serve or move and as a result Wawrinka easily opened up a two sets to love lead.
However, then Nadal revived himself and perhaps the pain-killers kicked in while Wawrinka felt the pressure that now suddenly there was a Grand Slam title for him there for the taking.
Nadal won the third set easily to force a fourth, but Wawrinka steadied himself to win and take the match 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in two hours and 21 minutes.
It was a brave performance from Nadal to keep fighting despite his back complaint when a record number of players at this year's Australian Open have retired mid-match at the slightest sign of a bit of pain.
Most notably there was Australia's Bernard Tomic tossing it in against Nadal in the first round, but Nadal continued to fight even though he could barely move for some time.
However, Wawrinka was dominating the match before Nadal got hurt and then found a way to close out the match to now become the second man from Switzerland to ever win a Grand Slam title.
Wawrinka is now the highest-ranked Swiss player as well surpassing Roger Federer for the very first time and after making his first Grand Slam final in the 36th major tournament of his career, he can now call himself a champion.
It caps off a remarkable improvement in Wawrinka's game over the past 12 months since taking on former world No. 2 Magnus Norman as coach.
He had to overcome heartbreaking five-set losses to Novak Djokovic at last year's Australian and US Opens, but he got revenge beating Djokovic on the way to the Australian Open title this year.
Wawrinka is also the first player not named Nadal, Djokovic, Federer or Andy Murray to win a Grand Slam title since Juan Martin Del Potro claimed the 2009 US Open.
It was a dominant showing from Wawrinka in the very first set of a Grand Slam final that he has ever played in with him scoring the only break of serve while hitting three aces, five points at the net and hitting 12 winners to take it out six games to three.
Wawrinka then earned an early break again in the second set to lead 2-1 before a clearly distressed, and hobbled, Nadal took an injury time-out.
When that stretched to over seven minutes both the crowd and Wawrinka grew restless with boos poured down on Nadal as he returned to the court and Wawrinka arguing with both the chair umpire and tournament referee.
However, Nadal clearly could hardly move with the back complaint but he refused to concede the match and the tournament.
Wawrinka, though, cruised through the rest of the second set winning it six games to two and it appeared only a matter of time before Nadal would be forced to concede because of both the pain in his back and his lack of mobility caused by it.
However, suddenly he appeared to be suffering a little less pain to start the third set and could move a little better, and Wawrinka took his foot off the pedal thinking like most that it was now just a formality that he was moments away from becoming a Grand Slam champion.
All of a sudden, Wawrinka's game deserted him and Nadal was able to get more balls in the court and he raced out to a 4-1 and then 5-2 lead in the second set.
Wawrinka woke up, though, to hold serve to push it to 5-3 and then earn two break points on Nadal's next service game. The Spaniard saved both, though, and then went on to win the game and the set six games to three.
After the third set was tied at two games apiece, Wawrinka found a way to break Nadal again to lead 4-2.
However, Nadal was to have one last crack and easily broke back to cut Wawrinka's lead to 4-3 before the Swiss world No. 8 won the last two games to close out the set, the match and the Australian Open championship.