Cheers went up from a crowd outside the Delhi court when lawyers rushed out to announce the sentence handed down for last December's assault, which triggered furious protest across India and a national debate about violence against women.
"This has shocked the collective conscience of society," said Judge Yogesh Khanna, condemning the men to death by hanging.
"In these times, when crime against women is on the rise, courts cannot turn a blind eye towards such gruesome crime. There cannot be any tolerance. This crime in every way falls within the rarest of rare category warranting a death sentence."
The sentencing was one of the biggest tests in years of India's paradoxical attitude towards the death penalty. The country's judges hand down 130 death sentences on average each year but India has executed just three people in the past 17 years.
Despite its apparent reluctance to carry out the sentences, last year India voted against a UN draft resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions.
Lawyers for all four convicts said they would appeal, which means their execution, if carried out, could be years away.
The case will go to the High Court and then Supreme Court, and if they confirm the sentences, the final decision will lie with the president, who has the power to grant clemency.
One of the four men, gym handyman Vinay Sharma, wept as he was dragged out of the court, where police with riot gear had formed a barricade to keep crowds back.
The victim, who was raped and beaten for an hour on a moving bus, became a symbol of the dangers women face in a country where a rape is reported on average every 21 minutes and acid attacks and cases of molestation are common.
The woman, who came from a lower-middle-class family and worked in a call centre while she studied, cannot be named for legal reasons, but Indian media have dubbed her Nirbhaya - a Hindi word meaning fearless.
"Today we can breathe a little easier," said the victim's mother, who hugged a police officer outside the court after the sentence was read out.
"I hope the conviction will deter people from committing such crimes in future."
Defence lawyers had urged the court to ignore what they said was popular and political pressure for the harshest penalty. "This is not the victory of truth," shouted defence lawyer AP Singh at the judge when the sentence was read out. "But it is the defeat of justice."
"The judge has taken the decision under political pressure without considering facts," he later told reporters.
The country's interior minister, Sushilkumar Shinde, denied there had been any political interference in the case.
Yesterday's sentencing ended a seven-month trial, often held behind closed doors, which was punctuated by a fifth defendant hanging himself.
A sixth, who was under 18 at the time of the attack, was earlier sentenced to three years.