American Allyson Felix won the women's award for the first time after getting three golds at the London Olympics, the ruling body International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) said.
Bolt (26) won back-to-back sprint trebles at the 2012 Games in the 100 metres, 200m and 4x100m to get the award in an IAAF poll, his previous titles coming in 2008, 2009 and 2011.
The Jamaican world record holder came up first against Olympic champions and world record holders David Rudisha of Kenya (800m) and American Aries Merritt (110m hurdles).
Felix (26) took 200m, 4x100m and 4x400m gold in London, to go with a 4x400m gold from 2008 to get the women's award ahead of Olympic champions Jessica Ennis of Britain (heptathlon) and Valerie Adams of New Zealand (shot put).
The award ceremony in Barcelona was part of the IAAF centenary celebrations. – Sapa-DPA.