The fourth-seeded Sharapova overcame 10 double-faults and a number of untimely errors to defeat Kvitova in a rematch of the 2011 Wimbledon final, won by the Czech left-hander.
Sharapova broke Kvitova to go up 3-0 and then 4-2 in the third set, but made consecutive errors in the next game to give Kvitova break point to get back on serve. The Russian saved it with a hard, deep shot to the corner that Kvitova dumped in the net, then tracked down a short ball that clipped the tape and hit a sharply angled backhand winner to make it 5-2.
''It's not easy playing against Petra. You don't always quite get a good rhythm. She goes for a lot of shots, you know, very deep,'' Sharapova said. ''I was kind of happy that I was able to lift my game again in the third and come out with a win.''
After missing the end of last season with an injured shoulder, Sharapova is now wrapping up one of her most successful years on tour. She captured her fifth Grand Slam title at the French Open in June, and with her win in Beijing she now has four titles in the year - her most in a single season since 2006.
With the win, she'll also jump past Simona Halep and Kvitova from fourth to second in the rankings, within striking distance of top-ranked Serena Williams.
At this time last year, Sharapova was looking into different treatment options for her shoulder, not sure when she'd return to the court.
''It was mentally a tough time because I was just in the middle of Europe trying to find a solution, yet everyone was still playing,'' she said. ''It's definitely great to be a year later in a situation where this is my fourth title of the year, you know, a Grand Slam this year. A lot to put in perspective. You look back and think about how you kind of struggled, but you kept going.''
Kvitova, the reigning Wimbledon champion, fell short of earning her second title in as many weeks following her victory last weekend at the Wuhan Open.
Playing her ninth match in 13 days, she seemed to struggle with her energy levels as the match wore on and was more mistake-prone than usual, making 44 unforced errors. Her serve is usually a weapon, but she only had one ace to seven double-faults.
''The small difference is just who really going little bit forward more than the other. We both tried to play very aggressively, very fast. I did little bit more mistakes, I think,'' Kvitova said.
In the men's final, top-ranked Novak Djokovic was aiming to win his fifth China Open title and extend his unbeaten streak at the tournament to 24-0 when he took on third-seeded Tomas Berdych later Sunday.