A terrible playing surface and two superb defences kept scoring down, with the sides having exchanged a pair of penalties apiece as the match entered the final 10 minutes.
But a brilliant chip-through from Dan Biggar and a kind bounce put North in at the corner flag, with Leigh Halfpenny adding a huge penalty two minutes later to confirm the victory.
Wales were left elated after a thoroughly justified victory that ends a run of eight defeats in style, while France are in total disarray after a second consecutive defeat and another underwhelming performance.
The two sides lined up at the Stade de France with plenty to prove after defeats last weekend, and it seemed that the coaches' work on defensive failings had been taken to heart by both line-ups.
Time after time, promising moves were simply suffocated by outstanding defence, with the tackling by France's Louis Picamoles and Thierry Dusautoir and Wales's Justin Tipuiric and Ryan Jones particularly impressive.
France were the first to break the deadlock after a quarter of an hour as a scrum collapse was blamed on the Welsh front row - though the appalling Stade de France pitch, which disintegrated in huge chunks at every scrum, was more likely to blame. Frederic Michalak made no mistake from the Wales 10m line.
From the restart, Wales had a great attacking platform as a quickly-earned penalty was put out just 7m from the try line by Biggar.
And, though Wales probed patiently for gaps, they could find no way through, but a French offside gifted Wales three points from dead in front of the posts that Leigh Halfpenny converted easily.
Five minutes later, France probably should have scored as an opening worked by Mathieu Bastareaud and Yoann Huget saw Huget closing on the line with the unmarked Wesley Fofana outside him.
But Huget waited too long before trying to offload, and the half ended with the sides locked at 3-3.
Wales got off to a perfect start to the second half, with Mike Phillips breaking the line after catching the restart kick, and his move leading to a penalty on the 22m as the French defence piled in off its feet - a chance which Halfpenny took comfortably.
France almost levelled moments later when replacement Francois Trinh-Duc - on at half time for the injured Benjamin Fall - saw his drop goal effort slip wide.
The miss did not matter for long: the hosts got back on terms after 53 minutes as a scrum in the Wales half quickly became a penalty: twice it collapsed, and referee George Clancy decided that it was Wales to blame rather than the appalling playing surface.
The same culprit came to France's rescue just five minutes later when a magnificent kick-through by Ryan Jones found touch deep in the France 22m. The same player won a turnover from the throw, but the Wales scrum seven metres out became a French penalty within seconds as the two packs failed to complete a scrum once again.
The continual deterioration of the pitch turned the scrums into a farce: ten minutes later France were penalised after three consecutive collapses while in an attacking position just outside the Wales 22m.
Yet just as it seemed the match was destined to end in a draw, Wales made the critical move as they pushed forward. As a gap appeared on the left a wonderful piece of quick thinking saw Biggar chip through for North to chase - and the winger managed to dive in at the corner despite replacement Morgan Parra's good effort at trying to shove him into the flag.
Two minutes later, Halfpenny got the chance to put the match beyond doubt with a penalty from 45m out on the right, and his extraordinary kick crept just inches over the bar - and inches inside the left upright - to confirm a famous victory.