A day after Nadal made sure of wresting the No. 1 ranking away from Djokovic, the Serb gained some consolation by beating his big rival 6-3, 6-4 victory Sunday to claim his fourth China Open title in five years.
In the women's final, top-ranked American Serena Williams maintained her dominant form, beating Jelena Jankovic of Serbia 6-2, 6-2.
Nadal only needed to reach the final in Beijing in order to replace Djokovic as No. 1 when the new rankings come out on Monday. But the Serb handed Nadal his first loss on hard court this year, breaking him in the second game of the first set and again in the first game of the second. He served four aces to Nadal's two and hit 19 winners to the Spaniard's nine.
"I needed this win today. I really wanted to get my hands on the trophy and win against Nadal who has been the best player so far in 2013," said Djokovic, who had lost their last three meetings, including in the U.S. Open final.
Djokovic credited his almost flawless serve for the win this time, as well as his ability to keep calm. He said playing doubles also helped sharpen his game and build his confidence.
"That's crucial to get that necessary confidence when you're playing top guys, somebody like Nadal, who loves to get into the rally, loves to be in his comfort zone and I was always trying to move him around the court and I've done pretty well," Djokovic said.
Djokovic has yet to lose a match in Beijing.
"Center Court is exceptional. I enjoy it, and I try to cherish every moment that I spend here. And the results are showing how much I really enjoy being here and enjoy playing in this tournament."
Nadal, the reigning French Open and U.S. Open champion, has had a dominant year since returning in February from a seven-month layoff due to a left knee injury. He has won 10 titles and reached 12 finals overall, compiling an ATP Tour-best record of 65-4 on the season.
He hadn't lost a match since falling in the opening round at Wimbledon to 135th-ranked Steve Darcis of Belgium in June, his only previous blip this year.
Nadal also said Djokovic's serve made the difference.
"I was not able to have any chance when I was returning through the whole match," Nadal said. "When that's happening against a player like Novak, you are dead."
Yet Nadal seemed to put the setback behind him in light of an extraordinary comeback season that sees him returning to the top ranking for the first time since July 2011.
"I am back at the No. 1, something that I really thought that I would never have the chance to be back there," he said. "I'm playing one of the best seasons of my career, probably one of the more emotional years, if not the most for so many facts."
Williams' serve proved decisive in the women's final, in which both players were feeling the effects of a long season. Jankovic needed treatment after the third game of the second set for what appeared to be a sore back, returning only to lose the next five straight games.
"I served pretty well tonight. It was important to serve well because she's a good returner and it's always a good plus to do that," said Williams, who won 74 percent of the points when she made her first serve. "The first game was a little hard but then I got more into a rhythm tonight."
Williams won the first women's event in Beijing in 2004 and said her second win was an unexpected bonus at the end of a year in which she has now won 10 titles, including two Grand Slams.
"I really didn't expect to come and win this tournament. I just wanted to do well, she said.
This year's tournament was plagued by bad pollution in the Chinese capital, but Williams said it hadn't affected her game. Djokovic also brushed aside its impact on the event.
"It's not ideal in terms of pollution," Djokovic said. "Yes, we've been talking about the weather conditions, but it is what it is, it's something that has been the same for the last few years that I've been coming back here."