On his debut at the 13.1 mile half marathon distance, Bekele - the 31-year-old Ethiopian who completed 5 000m-10,000m doubles at the 2007 World Championships, 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Championships - emerged from three years of injury troubles to get the better of Farah, the 30-year-old Briton who has dominated global distance running on the track in the past two years.
In a gripping finale, Bekele took advantage of a steep downhill drop on to the mile-long stretch towards the finish line on South Shields seafront to open a 20m gap on Farah, who won the 5 000m and 10 000m at the World Championships in Moscow last month, and also to leave the veteran Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie running for third place.
Farah dug deep in the final half a mile and came close to retrieving the deficit but Bekele hung on to win by a second in 60min 09sec.
whether he had reminded the running world that he was still a major
force, Bekele replied: "Yes, because I have had injuries for a long time
- three years.
"Now I am recovered and my running is getting better.
"I am doing well again."
Farah, who last year succeeded Bekele as Olympic 5 000m and 10 000m champion, was consoled with an improvement of his British half marathon best time to 60:10 at the end of a demanding summer track season.
"I am disappointed to have finished second," he said.
"But the main thing for me this year was the World Championships.
"I've only had two or three weeks to prepare for this."
Farah makes his debut at the full marathon distance in London next April and Bekele is also planning to step up to the 26.2 mile distance.
Asked whether he wanted to line up alongside Farah in London next spring, Bekele replied: "Yes. If I'm invited I'd like to run."
Bekele's manager, Jos Hermens, subsequently said that London Marathon officials had been in touch with his office in the Netherlands within seconds of the race finish.
"I'm definitely doing the London Marathon and it would be great if Kenenisa was too," Farah said.
"This is what athletics should be about, competition like this. It shouldn't be about just one person dominating."
Gebrselassie, who dominated the 10,000m before moving on to the marathon and breaking the world record, was happy enough with his performance - as well he might. The 40-year-old clocked a world Masters half marathon best, 60min 41sec.
Asked about the potential of Bekele and Farah at the full marathon, Gebrselassie said: "They can go on and break world records at the marathon. Why not?"
The Great North Run course qualifies for 'best' rather than 'record' half marathon status because it drops 30.5m from start to finish.
Paula Radcliffe's women's best of 65:40 was set in the race in 2003.
The Kenyan marathon specialist Priscah Kiptoo missed the mark by five seconds, finishing in 65:45, after breaking clear with five miles to go.
World 5,000m champion Meseret Defar was second in 66:09 and her Ethiopian compatriot, world 10 000m champion Tirunesh Dibaba third in 66:56.