The 'Queen of the Slopes' and most decorated female skiier of all time - having won Olympic gold in 2010 as well as 82 World Cup events - was third down the slopes and her time of 1:02.23 proved to be the early time to beat.
Slovenian Stuhec then set a stunning time of 1:01.74, 0.49 seconds quicker than Vonn, while Switzerland’s Corinne Suter slotted in to silver position after posting 1:01.97.
But in finishing on the podium it proved to be a fairytale finish for 34-year-old Vonn, who defied her “screaming” body to compete in Sweden and claim a medal at a record sixth world championships.
'Phenomenal performance' - Vonn shines in final race
“It was so fun. I was the most nervous I’ve been in my entire life, I wanted to come down and be in the lead, hear the crowd roar, and not crash!" Vonn told Eurosport.
“My family are thankful I didn’t end up in the fence today. I am always full tilt and on the limit – I was worried I would charge too hard and not make it down, so I was happy they lowered the start. It made it a little easier for me and my body.”
Vonn and Stenmark share legendary interview after her final race
Last week, the American announced world championships in Are would be her last competition after a string of injury problems.
Having crashed out in the Super-G on Tuesday, a black-eyed Vonn missed downhill training on Wednesday and Thursday, but used Friday’s downhill part of the women's Combined as preparation for her last race.
Vonn finished eighth in that run with a time of 1:13.43, and with conditions in Sweden resulting in the downhill starting from the second reserve position on Sunday afternoon, she ultimately set the early pace after racing down quicker than Viktoria Rebensburg and Jasmine Flury.
Blistering starts from both Ragnhild Mowinckel and Stephanie Venier saw them place ahead of the American halfway down, but they could not maintain their speed as Vonn remained first after eight racers.
'Absolutely brilliant' - Stuhec with gold-medal run
Wearing the ninth bib, Stuhec set an unbeatable time to wrestle the gold-medal position away from Vonn, with Suter then finishing between the pair to claim silver.
Olympic champion Sofia Goggia disappointed when finishing 1.02 seconds behind Stuhec.
Vonn crashes Stuhec interview with classy congratulations