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"It's what I dreamed of as a kid. I've worked so hard for it," said Cavendish.
Briton Simon Yates of Team Bike Exchange abandoned the race following a crash in which several riders fell down a ravine.
Tadej Pogacar of UAE-Team Emirates remains in the leader's yellow jersey on a day that will be remembered for Cavendish's exploits, 13 years on from his first win at the Tour.
An emotional and physically drained Cavendish embraced each of his team-mates at the finish and cried out "we've made history" as he hugged Davide Ballerini.
Cavendish added: "I'm so dead - 220km in that heat, in that wind. I went so deep there - the boys were incredible. I can't believe it.
"For a lot of the day it didn't feel like it was going to happen. I was so on the limit. You saw that at the end [which was] slightly uphill.
“Your heart was warm and happy
With the lilt of Irish laughter
Every day and in every way
Now forever and ever after."