While Ricciardo's moves to rise to second had been spectacular, the Red Bull driver left the best until last.
Ricciardo started sixth, and the ability to threaten on a victory at the Aussie appeared after the accident, the two pilots Toro Rosso.
After the safety vehicle was deployed on Lap 31 when the two Toro Rossos collided the Red Bulls pitted straight away to go onto the softs, having earlier moved to mediums, and in the latter stages of the race that proved to be the difference.
Ricciardo was at it again on Sunday, passing four times world champion Lewis Hamilton and the Briton's Mercedes team mate with characteristic flair and in contrast to team mate Max Verstappen's botched efforts.
Vettel still leads the season standings with 54 points in three races. Mercedes mirrored Red Bull's strategy by fitting the Finn with a set of Mediums, having done the same with Hamilton a handful of laps earlier.
For Ricciardo, he finally had reason to celebrate after he just missed a podium spot at home in Australia following a grid penalty, and had to retire in Bahrain due to mechanical problems.
Hamilton's team-mate Valtteri Bottas appeared on course for an excellent victory over Vettel before the safety vehicle period after the Finn jumped the Ferrari during their pit stops.
Red Bull assessed their options.
"The safety auto was so unlucky for us", Bottas said over the radio.More news: NWS Issues Winter Storm Watches, Lakeshore Flood Warning
With 56 laps in the books, Ricciardo crossed the line 8.8 seconds clear to record his sixth F1 race win and open Red Bull's account for the season with a famous victory in Shanghai.
Verstappen, though, dropped to fifth behind Hamilton.
Daniel Ricciardo is the master conjurer who comes from next to nowhere to win races.
Due to the incident between Vettel and Verstappen, Renault F1's Nico Hulkenberg was sixth, 21.052 seconds behind race victor Ricciardo with McLaren-Renault's Fernando Alonso a surprise seventh place after Vettel's Ferrari looked vulnerable following Verstappen's collision.
He finished in fifth place, ahead of Niko Hulkenberg's Renault. "We were giving everything we had and it kind of felt like we deserved victory".
Further down the field, Vettel was obviously suffering with a damaged vehicle, as Fernando Alonso squeezed past the German on lap 55 to take seventh place, with the Ferrari driver complaining of having been pushed off the track. "(We were) thankful for a few incidents ahead that kept us in the battle".
Verstappen was handed a ten-second post-race time penalty but all eyes were on the charging Ricciardo.
Sunday's triumph was the roughest of rsquo & Ricciardo;sometimes overtaking manoeuvres and s career and are overrun by breathtaking, using all the triumph. Gasly said: "The team told me "Brendon is going to let you pass at the end of the straight", so I expected him to let me by".
"I've only got six - it's not a whole lot but the wins always seem to come under some circumstances".