The Belgian Classics veteran won the sprint finish on The Mall ahead of Mark Renshaw and Michael Matthews
Earlier on it had looked as though he and the other sprinters had been put out of contention, after Geraint Thomas (Sky) had built a considerable lead ahead of the peloton, which stood at almost three minutes with just 25km to go.
But the Welshman, who had attacked from a seven-man breakaway group with 50km still to ride, quickly tired while the peloton organised their chase, so that the catch was made as the race entered central London with a few kilometres to go.
In the sprint Boonen timed his acceleration perfectly, moving to the far right-hand side on the wide finishing straight along The Mall to finish comfortably ahead of Renshaw, stretched out on the other side.
His win was especially impressive considering the fact that Boonen had suffered a puncture, then was later was dropped on the hilly circuit in the middle of the race.
Despite these setbacks, his Etixx-Quick Step team helped him catch back up to the peloton, then chase down Thomas and the other remnants of earlier breaks to bring everything back for a sprint finish.
Earlier in the race Sky had made it their mission to animate the proceedings. With just over 90km to go they made their first move, with Thomas and Ian Stannard attacking with Patrick Bevin (Cannondale-Drapac).
The trio caught up with the four surviving members of the day’s break – Britain’s Matt Holmes (Madison Genesis), Jelle Wallays (Lotto-Soudal), Jonathan Lastra (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and defending champion Jempy Drucker (BMC) – 65km from the finish, shortly before Thomas made his solo bid for freedom on Box Hill.
The Welshman committed to his move and built a lead that became stable at around one minute ahead of the them.
On Wimbledon Hill 14km from the finish Stannard himself attacked, making possible the prospect of the two Sky teammates riding together to the finish. But by this point the peloton was flying, and they caught the rest of the break, then Stannard, and finally Thomas in quick succession.
There was an attack from Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani-CSF) in the closing stages, but the peloton ensured everything came down to a sprint finish.
The earlier break may have been unsuccessful, but there were consolations for Drucker and Holmes in the form of the mountains classification, which they were jointly awarded having claimed the same amount of points over the day’s peaks, and Lastra, who won the sprint competition.
The incidents in the race’s preceding sportive, where two serious crashes caused major delays and diversions as an air ambulance was called to the scene, also had an effect on this race, which was delayed for almost half an hour due to congestion in Dorking.
RideLondon-Surrey Classic 2016 (202.3km)
1. Tom Boonen (Bel) Etixx-QuickStep in 4-43-56
2. Mark Renshaw (Aus) Dimension Data
3. Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-BikeExchange
4. Jens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto-Soudal
5. Jaroslaw Marycz (Pol) CCC Sprandi-Polkowice
6. Paolo Simion (Ita) Bardiani-CSF
7. Floris Gerts (Ned) BMC
8. Tobyn Horton (GBR) Madison-Genesis
9. Steele Von Hoff (Aus) ONE Pro Cycling
10. Mark McNally (GBR) Wanty-Groupe Gobert all at same time