Sun had sat on China's powerful Politburo and was the party boss of the wealthy inland province of Chongqing, before being accused of taking 170 million Chinese yuan ($35 million) in bribes and trading power for sex.
Sun Zhengcai, a former Politburo member, is the latest senior figure to fall in President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign.
The court said Sun had "gravely damaged the normal work order of national organisations and harmed the integrity of conduct by national employees", according to a statement.
He was deprived of his political rights for life, and all his personal property was confiscated. "His illegal gains and relevant yields they generated will be retrieved", the court was quoted as saying by state media.
The amount of bribes involved was punishable by death but the court said it took mitigating factors into account, including that most of the bribes were taken by "designated parties" and that Sun gave investigators additional, previously unknown information about his crimes.
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Sun had occupied several high positions during his political tenure.
Sun is also a former member of the Political Bureau of the 18th CPC Central Committee.
State broadcaster CCTV showed Sun in court accepting the sentence and stating that he would not appeal.
Another key rival of Mr Xi, Bo Xilai, who like Mr Sun was also party secretary in Chongqing, was sentenced to life in prison for corruption in 2013. In September, the party's internal discipline watchdog formally expelled Sun from the party, saying (link in Chinese) he had become "highly bureaucratic, lazy and ineffective, led a degenerate and corrupt lifestyle, engaged in money-for-sex transactions". More than a million officials have been punished since he became president, the BBC News report said.
Since taking power in 2012, Xi has promoted a massive campaign as a way to stamp out corruption throughout China.