World champion Lewis Hamilton ended the year of his career with an 11th victory under the lights of the Yas Marina circuit.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel finished second and Red Bull driver Max Verstappen third.
But the dead-rubber race will be remembered for Hulkenberg’s opening-lap crash, which saw him somersault through the air following a collision with Romain Grosjean at the ninth bend, before landing the wrong way up and precariously against the tyre barriers.
Flames billowed briefly from the back of his yellow Renault, with Hulkenberg unable to get out.
“I’m hanging like a cow,” the panicked driver, 31, said over the radio. “Get me out. There is fire. There is fire.”
To emphasise the drama of the incident, television footage captured both British popstar Sam Smith and Spice Girl Geri Horner with their jaws open in disbelief as they watched on from the Red Bull garage.
Hollywood superstar Will Smith held his hand over his mouth.
Hulkenberg was still upside down and strapped into his Renault. Safety marshals dashed to the scene before the flames went out, and, after more than three minutes, they gingerly flipped the German’s car back on to four wheels.
Hulkenberg was assisted to the medical centre where the FIA, F1’s sporting federation, reported he was shaken but had escaped the incident unharmed.
“It was not the most comfortable situation to be in,” said Hulkenberg.
“There was a little barbeque at the back, so I just wanted to get out. You feel pretty helpless.”
Did the Halo, the three-pronged safety device which sits above the driver’s head and became mandatory this year, prevent Hulkenberg from making his escape?
“I don’t know if it blocked me or not,” he added.
“That was the first time for me having the car on the roof, so I was sitting tight waiting for the marshals and they reacted very quickly and obviously got me out.”
Until that point, the final race of a season that started in Melbourne more than nine months ago felt like the last day of a school term.
Hamilton was “taken hostage” by Will Smith in a video posted to social media before the race.
But, when the pole-sitter did take to his Mercedes, he could not be stopped.
Hamilton’s win, his eighth in his last 11 appearances, saw him become the first driver to break the 400-point barrier.
He ends the year 88 points clear of Vettel and 161 ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who has not won in 2018.
Hamilton celebrated his latest triumph by stripping on the podium, turning round and pointing towards the “Still I Rise” tattoo on his back.
“It has been an unconventional weekend,” said Hamilton. “Will Smith is the original hype man and he brings a lot of energy. He is like a big brother to me.
“We were filming with him 10 minutes before I got in the car, which I never do because that is the period of time where I’m usually getting ready. But I got a great start and then after that it was standard. I expected nothing but perfection.”
Fernando Alonso, competing in his 312th and final race before he heads for retirement, finished outside the top 10.
Urged by his McLaren team to chase the one point available for 10th, he replied: “I have 1,800 points (in my career).”
“Well for me, make it 1,801 points,” pleaded Alonso’s race engineer Will Joseph. The double world champion was unable to do so, ending his career in 11th.
“It has been a real honour and privilege racing against Sebastian [Vettel],” Hamilton, 33, said after performing a series of doughnuts on the main straight.
“He has always been a hard-working racing driver. He did a fantastic job this year.
“There is so much pressure, so don’t ever just look at our shortcomings. I know he is going to come back strong.
“Fernando is a true legend. Before he got to Formula One, I was admiring what he achieved. I don’t feel like I miss another driver but the sport will miss him.”