With eight kilometres to go, Gebrselassie was almost half a minute inside the pace of Kenya's Paul Tergat when he set the record of two hours, 54 minutes and 55 seconds on the same Berlin course in 2003.
Gebrselassie had to run on his own from around 30 kms, though, and with no one to push him he finally drifted off the pace as he approached the finish at the Brandenburg Gate.
His time of 2:05:56 was the fastest in the world this year and a personal best. He missed out on a 50,000 euros bonus for breaking the world record, but did pick up a time bonus of 30,000 euros to add to the 50,000 first prize.
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"I was OK going through halfway," Gebrselassie told reporters. "I knew I had a chance of breaking the world record but the last five kms really hurt me and I couldn't push at all."
Gudisa Shentema of Ethiopia finished a long way back in second place in 2:10:43, with Kurao Umeki of Japan third in 2:13:43.
Gete Wami made it a double victory for Ethiopia by winning the women's race in 2:21:34, a national record. Salina Kosgei of Kenya was second in 2:23:22, with Monika Drybulska of Poland a distant third in 2:30.12.
Gebrselassie was the supreme distance runner of his era on the track but doubts were raised about his future as a marathon runner following a disappointing finish in London this year.
Sunday's run in Berlin should banish those doubts.
Gebrselassie, enjoying the warm conditions over the flat course, set a blistering pace from the start and dropped his main rival, Sammy Korir of Kenya, after just 18 kms.
He was 26 seconds inside the world record time at the halfway stage and was soon left running solo as the last of the pacemakers dropped out.
A record seemed there for the taking but Tergat had been pushed all the way to the line by Korir in 2003 and there was no way Gebrselassie could match his pace over the closing stages.
"I'm sure this is the place set a world record," he said.
"It's such a fast course. But when you're alone it's very difficult to push. You need someone to assist you."
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