Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch-born Muslim of Moroccan descent, was convicted of shooting Mr Van Gogh seven times, then trying to decapitate him as he cycled to work in Amsterdam last November.
The murder caused revulsion in the Netherlands and prompted a series of attacks on mosques in several cities. It also hardened the tough, anti-immigration line taken by the centre-right Dutch government.
Yesterday, Judge Udo Willem Bentinck said Bouyeri had shown no remorse for a murder with "terrorist intent", convicting him under a law introduced in August last year.
The judge told a packed, heavily guarded hearing of Amsterdam District Court that the victim had beenn "mercilessly slaughtered" in a crime which was designed to undermine democracy in the Netherlands. The attack had, he said, "prompted great feelings of fear and insecurity in society".
Dressed in a grey robe and black and white headscarf, the defendant, 27, was impassive as the judgment was read out. He was forced to attend the hearing after he had refused to be there voluntarily.
The conviction and life sentence was no surprise since Bouyeri had admitted the attack annd it was witnessed by several people, one of whom took a photo of the assailant. He was arrested after a shoot-out with police.
The court also found Bouyeri guilty of the attempted murder of eight police officers and two bystanders, illegal possession of weapons and munitions, and of threatening Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born Dutch politician.
She had collaborated with Mr Van Gogh over a film called Submission which portrayed Islam as a misogynous religion which condoned violence against women. Ms Hirsi Ali's life was threatened in a note pinned to Mr Van Gogh's body with a knife, and she was forced into hiding for several months.
But the judges decided Bouyeri had acted alone rather than being part of a wider conspiracy.
The verdict ends one of the most high-profile murder cases in the Netherlands in recent years during which the accused refused to offer a defence, claiming he did not accept the authority of the court.
During the trial the prosecutor displayed photographs of the weapons used by Bouyeri: a gun, a machete-like weapon used to try to cut through Mr Van Gogh's neck, and a filleting knife that pinned the letter threatening Ms Hirsi Ali to the victim's stomach.
Bouyeri showed no sign of remorse, saying he would do the same again given the opportunity. On 12 July he told the court: "I should cut everyone's head off who insults Allah or his prophet."
As Bouyeri headed for a lifetime behind bars, Hans Janssen, an expert on Islam from the University of Utrecht warned that the convicted man would try to convert fellow prisoners to his "radical, violent form of Islam." Mr Janssen told Radio Netherlands: "Recruitment is going on in prisons, not only in this country, but in most countries that have prisoners who have been sentenced for Islamic terrorist activity. Usually, the prison authorities and the secret services try to find out what is going on, but I'm sure they miss a lot."
Under Dutch law Bouyeri will not qualify for parole unless granted early release by the Dutch monarch, who would take guidance from the trial judge and justice minister.