Brusca, 36, is believed to have succeeded Salvatore "Toto" Riina as the Mafia's "boss of bosses". He was arrested with his brother Vincenzo in a beach house at Cannitello, near Agrigento, in south-western Sicily.
"It is an extraordinary success for the forces of law and order," said Giorgio Napolitano, Interior Minister in the new centre-left government installed in Italy last weekend. "It is the greatest tribute that could be paid to Falcone's memory." Giovanni Falcone was murdered four years ago this week.
The Brusca brothers were hiding in the house with their wives and children. No one was injured when police raided the villa, which they said they had been watching for weeks.
Mafia turncoats say Brusca masterminded the bombing that killed Falcone, then Italy's leading anti-Mafia judge, with his wife and three bodyguards on 23 May, 1992. A huge bomb planted in a storm-drain under the highway outside Palermo exploded as his motorcade passed.
Brusca is accused of having pushed the remote-control button that set off the bomb.
Rino Monaco, head of an anti-Mafia branch of the Italian police, described Brusca as the "most bloodthirsty" member of the hit-squad that killed Falcone. "We are really happy ... We were hunting him down for months; we came close to getting him several times before but he got away."
Falcone's murder and the killing of his colleague Paolo Borsellino two months later by a car-bomb in Palermo sparked a big crackdown against the Mafia. Brusca was one of the three most wanted Mafia men still at large after Riina's arrest in January 1993 and that of Riina's brother- in-law, Leoluca Bagarella, last year. The other two are Pietro Aglieri and Bernardo Provenzano.
Brusca's arrest was announced by the national police chief, Fernando Masone, to a cheering audience at a concert for law-enforcement officials in Rome.
The Justice Minister, Giovanni Maria Flick, said: "This is an arrest which rewards the professional ability of the forces of law," adding that it would help to consolidate the new government's commitment to the fight against organised crime.
Brusca is also accused of heading the teams that planted car-bombs in mid-1993 which damaged the Uffizi museum in Florence, two churches in Rome and a public art gallery in Milan.
Prosecutors say those bombings came in retaliation for the arrest of Riina and for the Pope's condemnation of Cosa Nostra that year.
Brusca narrowly escaped arrest in January, when a Mafia turncoat had revealed his hiding place on the outskirts of Palermo. Several days earlier, he had been convicted in absentia and sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy in the murder of a Mob-linked tax-collector in 1992.Reuse content