Alonso went straight into the lead, as his team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella managed his pace to contain the McLaren challenge from Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya.
That order prevailed until lap 17, when Montoya ran over a dislodged drain cover in Turn 10. In June 2004 the Australian saloon car racer Mark Winterbottom had the bottom of his car torn out after a similar problem, so the Shanghai International Circuit owners clearly have some more work to do on their multi-million-pound facility.
The Colombian continued for another lap and a half before pitting for fuel and to investigate possible damage on lap 18, but he was back in a lap later for further attention as the safety car was deployed while the errant cover was retrieved and others were inspected. The deployment prompted a rash of pit stops, as Alonso, Fisichella, Raikkonen, Rubens Barrichello, Ralf Schumacher, Mark Webber, Felipe Massa, Antonio Pizzonia and Jacques Villeneuve took advantage and came in.
The safety car stayed out until lap 24, and when racing resumed on lap 25 Alonso was still in front. The period of slow running had wiped out his 17.5-second lead, but he was close to his refuelling window anyway and was able to maintain his lead over Fisichella and Raikkonen.
However, the stops had rejigged the order further back. Jenson Button, having pitted on lap 18, dropped from fifth to seventh, and David Coulthard also lost out as he dropped from sixth to eighth and had Massa and Christian Klien on his tail. McLaren's chances of the constructors' title were already looking weak.
Alonso quickly opened up a lead again over Fisichella, but Raikkonen was not yet able to challenge the second Renault. Further back, Barrichello came under attack from Ralf Schumacher, Webber, Button and Coulthard.
The next drama unfolded on lap 29 when Narain Karthikeyan crashed his Jordan heavily in Turn 13. Villeneuve had a lucky escape as he just avoided the wreckage, and there was so much debris on the track that another safety car period was inevitable. This time the field queued up behind it until lap 34. Crucially, Ralf Schumacher, Massa and Klien all stayed out as all of the other leading runners pitted again, so that when the race resumed on lap 35 they were running second, third and fourth behind Alonso.
Raikkonen overtook Fisichella during this round of pit stops, and the Italian's ploy of trying to hold everyone up as he came into the pits, as Raikkonen had done recently in Belgium, later earned him a drive-through penalty. Since that race the FIA had warned everyone that such tactics would not be accepted.
When Massa, Klien and the younger Schumacher pitted on laps 44, 45 and 47 respectively, Raikkonen finally had a clear road to Alonso. But by now the Spaniard was 13 seconds ahead and had detuned his Renault's engine.
Raikkonen set two fastest laps, but it was all too late. The disruptions of the safety car had worked against McLaren, and Alonso and Renault had things under control. The Spaniard's seventh victory of the year was a sweet success that evened the seasonal win tally with Raikkonen.
Ralf Schumacher scored a solid third after Fisichella dropped a place serving his drive-through penalty, Klien finished a strong fifth for Red Bull and Massa maintained sixth after a stern challenge from Webber. That earned him a race car of his own, as his departing team principal Peter Sauber promised him the reward as he crossed the finish line.
Button was an unhappy eighth. "The first safety car should have waved us past but it didn't," he said. "Montoya sat behind it and that was that. I lost about three places."
Michael Schumacher's appalling day ended in the gravel trap when he lost control of his Ferrari and slid off the road during the first safety car period. The former world champion blamed worn Bridgestone tyres for his second incident of the afternoon.
"This is a fantastic feeling," beamed Alonso as the champagne corks popped at Renault.
"I didn't think anything could equal winning the drivers' championship, but seeing our people celebrating, it's just as good. I am really so happy today and there are only two words to say to them: thank you.
"It was probably the easiest race of the year. We had a bit of oversteer and we dropped a bit of front wing at the first pit stop, but apart from that the car was perfect.
"We showed here if we want to take a little more risk, if we want to beat McLaren, we can do it."
1 Renault 191
2 McLaren-Mercedes 182
3 Ferrari 100
4 Toyota 88
5 Williams-BMW 66
6 BAR-Honda 38
7 Red Bull-Cosworth 34
8 Sauber-Petronas 20
9 Jordan-Toyota 12
10 Minardi-Cosworth 7