In front of a record crowd of 87,192 for any match in the history of the European Championships, Kelly prodded home a loose ball from close range to end English football’s 56-year wait for a World Cup or Euro victory.
Kelly fought back from an anterior cruciate ligament tear to be fit in time for the tournament and made herself a national hero by being in the right place to pounce when Germany failed to clear a corner in the 110th minute.
The Manchester City winger tore off her shirt in celebration in scenes reminiscent of Brandi Chastain’s famous reaction to scoring the winning penalty at the 1999 World Cup for the USA.
“This is what dreams are made of, as a young girl watching women’s football,” said Kelly, who broke off a post-match interview to join in a chorus of “Sweet Caroline” with the crowd and her teammates.
“Thank you for everyone who played a part in my rehab. I always believed I’d be here, but to be here and score the winner, wow. These girls are amazing.”
England looked set for victory in the 90 minutes when substitute Ella Toone’s sublime chip over Merle Frohms put the hosts in front.
Germany showed remarkable resilience to bounce back as Lina Magull levelled 11 minutes from time.
But for once, England were not to be denied a major tournament success.
Fortune did not favour Germany, who lost captain and top goalscorer Alexandra Popp to a muscle injury in the warm-up.
But England will feel their time for some luck was due as 12 months on from the Three Lions’ defeat on penalties to Italy in the Euro 2020 men’s final, the nation’s women went one better.
England manager Sarina Wiegman has now led the home nation to the title in back-to-back women’s Euros after leading the Netherlands to victory five years ago.
“The game was so tight, there was a little bit of fight in there, but who cares, we won 2-1,” said Wiegman. “We are European champions.”
Under Wiegman, England are unbeaten in 20 games but were pushed to the limit by the eight-time winners despite missing the massive presence of Popp.
The Wolfsburg striker, who missed the entirety of Euro 2013 and 2017 through injury, had scored six goals in five games en route to the final.
Despite losing their major goal threat and facing the intimidating atmosphere of a full Wembley waiting to party, Germany still posed a threat and came close to opening the scoring early in the second half when Magull prodded just wide.
Strength in depth has been one of the key features of England’s success under Wiegman and the Dutch coach turned to Alessia Russo and Toone to turn the tide as they did in the quarter-final win over Spain.
The changes worked to perfection once more as Toone timed her run through the heart of the German defence to latch onto Keira Walsh’s through ball, showing great composure to coolly lift the ball over Frohms.
Lesser sides than the eight-time champions would have been broken, but Germany immediately pushed forward in search of an equaliser.
The excellent Magull smashed a shot off the post and Popp’s replacement Lea Schueller should have converted the rebound rather than rolling the ball into the arms of the grateful Mary Earps.
Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s side were not to be denied, though, and fittingly it was Magull who sent the game to extra-time as the Bayern Munich midfielder slotted Tabea Wassmuth’s cross into the roof of the net.
The German attack was further blunted by Magull’s withdrawal at the end of 90 minutes due to a knock, and both sides felt the pace of a physical encounter in the extra 30 minutes.
England just had enough left in the tank to finally get the job done as Germany failed to deal with the second ball from a corner and Kelly’s telescopic right leg flicked the ball home.
After decades of disappointment, a major tournament trophy has come home for England fans.