Higgins, 42, had questioned earlier in the season whether it might be the end of his career following some poor form.
However he produced some of his best throughout the tournament, including a brilliant 5-1 victory over Ronnie O'Sullivan in the quarter-finals, and, despite being level at 6-6 going into the final session, pulled away from Hawkins early on.
A nervy opening frame in that final session saw Higgins get in from 44-0 down to steal and take first blood as he cleared up expertly with a 66.
The following frame was even tenser as Hawkins looked set to win only to miss on the pink. Higgins missed as well but after Hawkins failed to pot the pink again it was the Scot who sunk it to win one away from victory.
However Hawkins wasn’t about to roll over as he produced a masterful display after Higgins missed a long red in the 15th. He dug deep to roll in a break of 82 and pull back to 8-7.
A mistake from Hawkins in the 16th let Higgins in and he didn’t let up. There were a couple of shaky shots but Higgins kept his cool and produced a break of 64 before getting stuck behind a group of reds.
Hawkins couldn't capitalise and a fantastic long red got Higgins back on the table but with his opponent needing snookers he missed a red to the middle pocket. Hawkins left a red on and Higgins duly potted it to seal the title.
It is his fifth Welsh Open, which is more than anyone else, and it takes him to 30 ranking titles, behind only Stephen Hendry (36) and Ronnie O’Sullivan (32).
It also means that all three of the 'Golden Generation' of Higgins, O'Sullivan and Mark Williams have all won one of the Home Nations events this season, with the fourth going to Neil Robertson.
Earlier on in the day the pair had gone into the interval level at 4-4.
Hawkins went 1-0 and 2-1 up but on both occasions Higgins pegged him back by knocking in centuries with breaks of 138 and 141 respectively. The latter a particularly important break given he had Hawkins take from the third after he was 68-0 up.
Hawkins got his first century (130) of the match as he went 4-2 up but Higgins dug deep with back-to-back half-centuries (51, 58) to make it 4-4.
In the first mini-session of the evening Higgins made it four frames on the trot as he continued his form from the last session to win two more frames and go 6-4 ahead.
However Hawkins then produced sublime back-to-back centuries (103, 138), with Higgins accidentally knocking in the white in the latter, to make sure it was 6-6 before the last session.