Schoolboy Ian plunged into the River Wear while playing with friends 10 days ago.
Search teams made the discovery downstream from Page Bank bridge in the Willington area of County Durham yesterday afternoon.
The devastated family were notified immediately and he was formally identified last night.
The discovery came just hours after Durham Constabulary extended the search area and microlight planes were brought in to help.
Police have now began scaling down the search efforts, which has seen members of the community come forward to help out since Ian first went missing at around 7pm on April 27 .
A spokesman from Durham Constabulary said: “We can now confirm the identity of the young boy found in the River Wear near to Page Bank bridge is that of missing eight-year-old boy Ian Bell. An inquest into Ian’s death will be held in due course.
“We would like to offer our sincere condolences to Ian’s family at this difficult period.
“Durham Constabulary would like to thank everyone involved in the search of Ian and ask that the family are left alone at this difficult time.”
A painstaking 10-day search involving police, search and rescue experts and members of the public, extended to a 13-mile stretch of the River Wear.
On Saturday an underwater search team and police spotters from Northumbria Police, assisted by the Coastguard trawled an area of from the North Sea inland to the Durham Police border.
Yesterday officers began searching an area known as the Finchale Woods towards the Lambton Estate, a dense wooded area not accessible to the public. A microlight plane and a light aircraft was also used to take photographs of the River Wear and its embankments, and identify any other possible areas where Ian could be.
Ian fell into the fast-flowing Wear near the Brown Trout pub. Witnesses told how he tried to grab on to a branch which snapped before he plunged into the river, which was swollen by recent heavy rain.
The whole community came together to help search for the schoolboy and support his devastated family.
Ian’s mum Claire had remained hopeful throughout the search process, saying: “We still have hope in our hearts that Ian will be found soon and just want to find him and bring him home. We are all devastated that we may never find Ian, but we will always have hope and will continue to search.
“Our friends and neighbours have been fantastic over the last few days and we would like to thank everyone involved in the search for their help – it means such a lot to the family during this extremely difficult time that we have the support of our tight-knit community.”
This weekend Durham Constabulary asked another police force to review its 10-day operation to find the schoolboy, to make sure all possible methods and tactics had been used. The assessment concluded that every possible tactic had been tried.