Wendell Baker, 56, had previously walked free from court when he went on trial in 1999 for attacking 66-year-old Hazel Backwell because a judge ruled out DNA evidence.
But he went on trial again this year after a DNA match was found 'in the order of one in a billion'.
Baker, who was unanimously found guilty by jurors after deliberating for just over an hour on Tuesday, refused to come out of the cells to attend his sentencing at the Old Bailey.
Judge Peter Rook said he would serve a minimum of 10 years and six months before being considered for parole.
Ms Backwell, who died in 2002, suffered a 'terrifying ordeal' when Baker broke into her home in Stratford, east London, as she slept in January 1997.
He tied her hands behind her back with flex, beat and raped her, then ransacked her house before leaving her bound and trapped in a cupboard.
Ms Backwell was found by chance by neighbour George Walpole the next evening, 'terrified' and thinking she was going to die.
The attack left her too afraid to continue living alone or go out by herself and she 'died with a very sad and broken heart', her family said.
Judge Rook said: 'It must be the case that but for the fact that it was a Thursday and Mr Walpole passed by, she was likely to have died as a result.
'It seems to me it’s difficult to find a case of more serious rape during the course of a burglary, short of where the victim is either killed or caused very serious harm.'
The judge said Ms Backwell 'went through hours of torment thinking she had been left to die'.
He went on: 'This was a particularly grave case of the rape of a woman in her own bedroom, you having broken into her home at night. Up until then she had always felt safe and secure in her home.
'This was a planned offence to steal money. When you could not find any, you decided to punish her with a brutal and vicious attack and by raping her.'
Baker was arrested in October 1998 on suspicion of rape and provided a DNA sample which matched the DNA profile of swabs taken from Ms Backwell.
He had previously provided a DNA sample in January 1998 which also matched samples taken from Ms Backwell.
But he walked free from court after the judge decided the case could not proceed following legal argument at the start of the original trial in 1999.
A change in the law in 2005 allowed a person cleared of a serious offence to face retrial in certain circumstances, but when the case was reviewed in 2007, it was found that much of the evidence had been lost or destroyed.
- David Backwell, son of victim Hazel Backwell
He gave further DNA samples matching that found on swabs taken from Ms Backwell with a probability 'in the order of one in a billion', the court heard.
Jamaican-born Baker denied raping Ms Backwell, telling the court he had been framed by police, whom he claimed had hounded him for years.
The court heard he has been in and out of prison since the 1970s for a range of offences including burglary, theft and actual bodily harm.
Today her son David Backwell was in court to see his mother's attacker sentenced.
A statement on behalf of Ms Backwell’s family was released by the Metropolitan Police, which said the 'violent and depraved attack' had ruined her life and she died with a broken heart.
It said: 'My mother was a brave and strong woman. She survived the attack and was able to give a detailed account of what Wendell Baker put her through but her life was never the same again.
'She found it difficult to remain in her much-loved home and she moved into a warden-assisted flat and this began her demise.
'My mother sadly passed away lonely, with a broken heart and a shadow of her former self, and was never able to see the man who caused her so much pain jailed for what he did.
'Today Baker is no longer able to walk the street a free man and will have to face the stark reality of his actions. Justice has definitely been served today.'
The statement said Ms Backwell’s family had been 'sad and upset' when they were told that much of the evidence had been lost.
It added: 'We worried about what this meant for my mother’s case but today’s outcome is what is important. What happened is now in the past and today is about my mother.
'My mother suffered and it saddens me that she is not here to witness this momentous day. Instead I stand here on her behalf. Today is a good day for our family but it will always be tinged with sadness.'
Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Burgess said: 'This has been an extremely complex and difficult case to bring before the court and we welcome the (lengthy) sentence that has been handed down today.
'Wendell Baker mistakenly believed that he had got away with this horrific crime back in 1997 but the Special Casework Investigations Team has worked tirelessly to ensure that he will now spend a considerable amount of time in jail for the crime he has committed.
'The sentence handed down today reflects the awful nature of the offence and I am pleased that David Backwell - Hazel’s son - has been given the opportunity to represent his mother today and to see justice being served.'
TUMESHIRIKI KUTOKA DM''