When he succumbed to a knee injury midway through the first half at the Stade de France, it looked set to be a miserable night for the three-time World Player of the Year.
But substitute Eder’s extra-time goal saw Portugal triumph 1-0 to stun the hosts and finally win their first major international trophy.
“Today I felt sadness and happiness. What I can say is that it was one of the happiest moments of my life. I cried,” said Ronaldo, who later, despite his injury, danced his way through the mixed zone in Paris with several teammates, without stopping for waiting reporters.
In Ronaldo’s absence it was the Lille forward Eder who emerged as the unlikely hero and the Real Madrid superstar insisted he had a feeling that would happen.
“I felt it would be him who would resolve the game in extra-time. I am not a wizard or a visionary but I always follow my feelings,” Ronaldo said.
Ronaldo had been floored by a heavy challenge from France’s Dimitri Payet in the eighth minute of the game.
He rolled in agony, was led off for treatment and came back. After hobbling for several minutes, Ronaldo went off again to have his left leg bandaged.
One acceleration showed that he could not go on and he sat down in the 24th minute before signalling that he could not carry on.
He took off the captain’s armband and, as the tears welled up, was carried off on a stretcher to be replaced by Ricardo Quaresma.
The 31-year-old Madrid forward played in the Portugal side that lost the 2004 European Championship final 1-0 to Greece and his emotional teenaged outburst then has remained one of the enduring images of that tournament.
He had said before the Paris final that he wanted to be “crying for joy” this time – he could not have imagined how his prediction would come true.
Payet escaped any sanction from referee Mark Clattenburg for the challenge, something that disappointed Portugal coach Fernando Santos.
“I think the referee should have shown a card. I respect the referees, I think they are all unbiased and honest, but I think he should have flashed something, and he didn’t even blow for a foul,” said Santos.
“Our captain made an immense effort. Twice he tried as much as he could to get back on the pitch but he couldn’t carry on.”
Instead the stricken Ronaldo helped to motivate his teammates to deliver glory for Portugal against all the odds.
“Him being there in the dressing room and on the bench was very important, the way he motivated the players,” Santos added.
Ronaldo emerged after the end of 90 minutes to encourage his exhausted colleagues during extra time.
As the clock ticked down, his face was a picture of emotion, pushing a substitute onto the pitch before erupting in joy at the final whistle.
His tightly strapped leg did not stop him hobbling up the steps at the Stade de France to lift the trophy and he was bursting with pride as he showed off the prize.
It was his last act of a tournament in which he has played the captain’s role superbly, scoring a crucial brace in a 3-3 draw with Hungary that took them through the group stage and then the opener in the 2-0 semi-final win over Wales.
Ronaldo finally has a major international tournament to add to his plethora of club and individual prizes and accolades won with Madrid and Manchester United – including the three world player of the year awards.
He is now one up over his eternal Argentine rival, Lionel Messi, who retired from international football after losing the Copa America final recently.
Ronaldo’s early departure deprived him of the chance to beat Michel Platini’s record of nine goals in European Championship finals, but he leaves with the most important prize.