World champion Sebastian Vettel led into the first corner, but his race was over by the second. A right rear puncture put his Red Bull into a spin, and the resulting damage to the car was terminal. The German retired in the pits, and was left to watch from the sidelines.
Hamilton built up a small lead ahead of Alonso, who passed Button for second on the first lap. The Englishman suffered from reliability issues with his KERS, struggling to hold off Webber before a poor pit stop dropped the Australian further behind.
Meanwhile, Hamilton and Alonso pulled clear at the front, the gap remaining around three seconds through the first series of pit stops.
Button, Webber and Massa battled for third position before Jenson's KERS returned and he was able to pull clear as the trio approached the backmarkers. Mark and Felipe traded passes, but overtaking each other was the least of their worries.
Pastor Maldonado was having a good race, having fought up from the back row of the grid along with his teammate Rubens Barrichello. But the rookie was perhaps spending too much time looking forward and not enough time paying attention to his mirrors.
He was given a drive-through penalty for ignoring blue flags, and barely a lap later was under investigation again. The stewards decided to save the punishment for after the race, and the South American will undoubtedly receive a grid-drop penalty for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Hamilton and Alonso were in a race of their own, the gap yo-yoing as they threaded their way through lapped traffic. Hamilton stopped for tyres while Fernando stayed out, hoping to put in enough quick laps at the end of his stint to challenge the McLaren.
But ultimately the pace was not there and he rejoined close behind Lewis, falling back as his Ferrari endured its customary struggle on the hard Pirelli tyres.
Mark Webber was on an unconventional three-stop strategy, passing Button for third and pulling away quickly—but Jenson was on the harder rubber, while Mark had to stop again.
The Saubers of Kobayashi and Sergio Perez briefly squabbled over tenth before the Japanese driver passed into Turn 11. The Force Indias of Sutil and di Resta were eighth and ninth, and Kobayashi set about reeling them in—but the laps were running out.
Hamilton had built up enough of a gap to relax, and took the chequered flag eight seconds clear of the Spaniard. Webber's last-lap stop handed third to Button, the Red Bull man far enough ahead of Massa to hold fourth.
Nico Rosberg, Michael Schumacher, Adrian Sutil, Paul di Resta and Kamui Kobayashi rounded off the Top 10.
After a 2010 race notable for a lack of overtaking, this year Abu Dhabi at the very least provided some action. On more than one occasion drivers traded overtakes in the two DRS zones, and no one was held up behind a slower car for too long.
Hamilton's victory was his first since the German Grand Prix in July. He was no doubt helped on his way by Vettel's retirement, but a win's a win. It looked like the "old" Lewis on the top step of the podium, and hopefully the worst of his troubles are over.