The 31-year-old Portugal and Real Madrid foward topped the poll of 173 journalists worldwide ahead of Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann to cap what has been a remarkable 2016.
Ronaldo played a crucial role as Real beat city rivals Atletico in May to become European champions for a record-extending 11th time.
Then, t wo months later, Portugal triumphed at Euro 2016 in France to claim a major trophy for the first time – despite losing their talisman to injury early on in the final.
Ronaldo, who has so far scored 48 goals in 52 games for club and country during the calendar year, is currently away in Japan as Real Madrid prepare for the FIFA Club World Cup.
The 2016 accolade moves Ronaldo clear of three-time winners Marco van Basten, Michel Platini and the late Johan Cruyff, while he is now one behind Messi.
Commenting on his triumph, Ronaldo said: “It is a great honour to receive my fourth Golden Ball. The emotion is like the first one, it is the dream come true again.
“I never thought in my mind to win four times the Golden Ball, so I am so pleased and so happy.
“I have the opportunity to thank all of my team-mates, the national team, Real Madrid, all of the people and players who helped me to win this individual award.
“As you can imagine I feel so proud and happy to receive this amazing and beautiful ball.”
Ronaldo, who collected his first Ballon d’Or during his time at Manchester United in 2008, added: “It is important for me, I will try my best, like I do every year. It is a new challenge.
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“I will try my best, work hard as always and I will enjoy this moment because it is not easy to win this.”
The 2016 Ballon d’Or: Where did everyone finish?
France Football announced Ronaldo as the winner at around 7pm GMT, but did not reveal the top five in their countdown until later on Monday evening.
Runner-up Messi, the 29-year-old Argentina playmaker, helped guide Barcelona to another domestic league and cup double in 2015-16, scoring 41 goals in all competitions.
Griezmann, meanwhile, finished as top scorer at Euro 2016, where Les Bleus were defeated by Portugal in the final, and he also helped take Atletico to the Champions league final.
Brazil forward Neymar was named fifth in the poll behind his Barcelona team-mate and Uruguay international Luis Suarez.
Ronaldo’s Real Madrid team-mate Gareth Bale, who helped drive Wales to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, was voted in sixth place.
Thirty players in all were put forward on the 2016 Ballon d’Or finals list, which included several players based in the English Premier League.
Leicester’s title-winning striker Jamie Vardy was eighth, with midfielder Riyad Mahrez – the PFA Player of the Year – ranked one place higher at seventh.
Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba became the world’s most expensive player when he joined Manchester United from Juventus for £89million in the summer, and the France international placed 14th.
Sweden forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic also headed to Old Trafford when he left Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer. The veteran 35-year-old striker finished in 13th position in the journalists’ poll after scoring over 40 goals in 2016.
West Ham’s French playmaker Dimitri Payet ranked joint 17th.
Also included among the nominees were Manchester City pair Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne, along with Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
Along with Griezmann and Messi, Ronaldo has also been named on a three-man shortlist for The Best FIFA Men’s Player Award 2016, which will be announced at a ceremony in Zurich on January 9.