The bronze memorial to the 17th century slave merchant was pulled down during a protest on 7 June 2020, before being rolled into the city’s harbour.
Although a huge crowd of people were involved, just four people faced trial.
Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, and Sage Willoughby, 22, were caught on CCTV passing the ropes around the statue that were used to pull it down.
Jake Skuse, 33, was accused of orchestrating a plan to throw it in the harbour.
On Wednesday they were cleared by a jury at Bristol Crown Court after almost three hours of deliberations following a two-week trial.
There were loud cheers from the packed public gallery after the not guilty verdicts were returned.
When asked what they would say to people who accuse them of trying to “change history” by pulling down monuments, Mr Willoughby said: “We didn’t change history.
“They were whitewashing history by calling [Colston] a f****** virtuous man – sorry to swear.
“We didn’t change history, we rectified it.”
Willoughby continued: “This is a victory for Bristol, this is a victory for racial equality and it’s a victory for anybody who wants to be on the right side of history.”
Speaking outside of court, Ms Graham said she was “overwhelmed” in the wake of the jury’s verdicts, adding: “We just want to say thank you to so many people because we have never been alone in this journey, we have been so supported and we are such a small part of this really.”
In a statement, Raj Chada, who represented Mr Skuse, said: “The truth is that the defendants should never have been prosecuted.
“It is shameful that Bristol City Council did not take down the statue of slaver Edward Colston that had caused such offence to people in Bristol and equally shameful that they then supported the prosecution of these defendants.”
Tom Wainwright, for Mr Ponsford, raised the question of costs being repaid to the defendants following their acquittal but Judge Peter Blair QC questioned whether such an application was appropriate in light of the high-profile support the defendants have received.
Artist Banksy designed a limited edition t-shirt, pledging the funds raised to the defendants’ cause.
The events in June caused an estimated £3,750 of damage to the statue – including removing its staff and a coat tail – and £350 of damage was caused to the railings of Pero’s Bridge.
All four defendants admitted their involvement but denied their actions were criminal, claiming the statue itself had been a hate crime against the people of Bristol.
They chose to have the case heard by a jury at Bristol Crown Court, even though it could have been dealt with by a magistrate.
The prosecution argued the case was a matter of straight forward criminal damage, and who Colston had been was “irrelevant”.
But the barristers for all four defendants argued Colston and his legacy was vital to deciding the case.
The court heard Colston was involved in the enslavement and transportation of more than 80,000 people, of which almost 10,000 were children.
An estimated 19,000 died on ships bound for the Caribbean and the Americas.
Over the course of the two-week trial, the court heard there had been campaigns in Bristol to have the statue removed dating back to the 1920s.
TV historian and author Professor David Olusoga gave expert evidence for the defence, while former Bristol lord mayor Cleo Lake also supported the accused.