Svendsen's more experienced team-mate, 36-year-old Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, bidding for his sixth Olympic gold, tied for second place with Sergey Novikov of Belarus.
The 24-year-old Svendsen, who took silver in the sprint, covered the course on a near-cloudless day on Whistler Mountain in 48.22.5, 9.5 seconds quicker than Bjoerndalen and Novikov.
Svendsen said the victory helped him erase memories of the pursuit, in which he finished a disappointing eighth. He tipped his hat to Bjoerndalen who took home his 10th Olympic medal.
"It makes up for the disappointment from the last race," Svendsen said. "I am very proud to be on this team."
Svendsen shot cleanly through the first three rounds and looked as if he would bring home the gold without a fight.
But he missed a target on the final set of shots, opening the door for Novikov who grabbed the lead briefly after shooting a clean program. But Novikov but was unable to capitalise and completed the course tied with Bjoerndalen.
"I wasn't thinking too much after my miss," Svendsen said. "I was just trying to race as hard as I could."
The Norwegians battled for the lead in the early stages but Bjoerndalen missed a shot while standing at the second round of shooting and fell behind.
He had a chance to take the lead after Svendsen's misfire but blew another standing shot during the final frame to take him out of gold-medal contention.
Bjoerndalen said he was not too proud to learn from his protege.
"Now that Emil is older I can learn a lot of tricks from him," said Bjoerndalen. "He was the best athlete today with a perfect performance."
Bjoerndalen, whom many believed had a chance to catch Bjoern Daehlie's Winter Games record of eight golds during the Vancouver Games, said he will continue the chase at the 2014 Olympics in Russia.
"I am going for Sochi," said Bjoerndalen, who finished a disappointing 17th in the sprint and seventh in the pursuit this week.
The capacity crowd at Whistler Olympic Park cheered wildly for Svendsen, who acknowledged the flag-waving crew on the podium by pumping his fists in the air.
Nikolay Kruglov shot perfectly but a loose screw in his rifle spoiled the marksman's bid for a medal.
The 28-year-old Russian was one of two from 88 starters with a 20 out of 20 on the shooting range and seemed en route to a fine performance until a screw on his rifle loosened.
Kruglov, who won silver in the relay during the 2006 Games, lost his balance and fell after tinkering with his rifle during a routine turn after the third shooting session.
"I was trying to fix this. So I crashed in the turn and I lost some time there. I am so frustrated."
Kruglov was only 48 seconds behind Svendsen after the third round of shooting and his clean final shooting round could have handed him the title.
"I have the feeling that I did not have the chance to prove myself," said Kruglov, who ended in 11th place more than two minutes off the pace. "I knew it was all over so I did not try too hard after that."
Bjorn Ferry of Sweden, who struck gold in the 12.5 km pursuit, finished 42nd and France's Vincent Jay, winner of the 10 km sprint, came home 60th.
Britain's Lee Jackson rounded off his campaign with 66th place, the Stockton-on-Tees soldier missed a total of four shots.
Jackson said: "It was tough, but my ski speed was good again. It was painful but fun. I have really enjoyed the last week and I can walk away happy."
Place of birth: Trondheim, Norway
Residence: Lillehammer, Norway
Previous major Olympic results:
Silver medallist, 2010 Winter Olympics, 10km sprint
Sixth place, 2006 Winter Olympics, 15km mass start
Gold medallist, 2009 World Championships, 4x7.5km relay
2x Gold medallist, 2008 World Championships, 20km individual, 15km mass start
Silver medallist, 2008 World Championships, 4x7.5km relay
Bronze medallist, 2007 World Championships, mixed 2x6 & 2x7.5km relay
Background: He enjoys cycling and his role model is Norwegian cross-country skier Borre Naess.