Already the holder of virtually every NHL single-season and career scoring record, Gretzky, 38, had been stuck on 1,071 since 4 February, missing 12 games due to a neck injury. His goal gave the New York Rangers a 3- 1 victory over their closest rivals, the New York Islanders.
The goal took him past his boyhood idol Gordie Howe. The record includes regular-season and play-off games in the NHL and the defunct World Hockey Association.
When Gretzky broke Howe's NHL career goal-scoring mark, Gretzky complained that his WHA goals should have been included in the record. Now Gretzky is the undoubted No 1 by any measure - except possibly his own.
"It's a goal I will never forget," Gretzky said. "Gordie Howe is the greatest player who ever played this game. It's such an honour to break the record of a man of his stature."
The win was also notable for the Rangers, who completed their first season sweep of their biggest rivals since 1972-73, the Isles' first year in the NHL.
Rangers' leading scorer, Adam Graves, and Mariusz Czerkawski of the Islanders traded second-period goals, leaving the teams deadlocked heading into the third period.
With less than three minutes remaining, Gretzky skated in and tapped his own rebound past goaltender Wade Flaherty for an unassisted goal that took him clear.
"It was kind of a garbage goal," he said. "More important, it was a big goal for us. It came at a time when the team really needed a win, and I was ecstatic."
John MacLean added an empty-netter with 43 seconds left to seal the win as the Rangers, fourth of five in the Atlantic Division, climbed to within five points of Boston for the final play-off place in the Eastern Conference.Reuse content