The 46-year-old father of three was found guilty last week of conspiring to intercept voicemails at the now-defunct Sunday tabloid following an eight-month trial at the Old Bailey.
Coulson, from Charing, in Kent, was joined in the dock by three former colleagues and private detective Glenn Mulcaire who all admitted their part in hacking before the trial started last year.
Judge Mr Justice Saunders told the defendants: "I do not accept ignorance of the law provides any mitigation.
"The laws of protection are given to the rich, famous and powerful as to all."
The judge said Coulson clearly thought it was necessary to use phone hacking to maintain the newspaper's "competitive edge".
And he said the delay in the News of the World telling police about the Milly Dowler voicemail in 2002 showed the motivation was to "take credit for finding her" and sell the maximum number of newspapers.
The judge said: "Mr Coulson has to take the major shame for the blame of phone hacking at the NotW. He knew about it, he encouraged it when he should have stopped it."
There was no reaction from Coulson as he was jailed by the judge.
NotW news editor Greg Miskiw, 64, from Leeds; chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck, 52, of Esher, Surrey; and news editor James Weatherup, 58, of Brentwood in Essex, were also sentenced today after all admitted one general count of conspiring together and with others to illegally access voicemails between October 2000 and August 2006.
Miskiw and Thurlbeck were each jailed for six months.
Weatherup was jailed for four months, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to do 200 hours unpaid community work.
Mulcaire was jailed for six months, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to do 200 hours unpaid community work.
According to Mulcaire's notes, Miskiw tasked him 1,500 times, Thurlbeck 261 times and Weatherup 157 times, the court heard.
Mr Justice Saunders told them: "All the defendants that I have to sentence, save for Mr Mulcaire are distinguished journalists who had no need to behave as they did to be successful.
"They all achieved a great deal without resorting to the unlawful invasion of other people's privacy. Those achievements will now count for nothing.
"I accept that their reputations and their careers are irreparably damaged."
Weatherup and Mulcaire both declined to comment as they left the courtroom.
Mulcaire, who was paid around half a million pounds by the NotW, was first convicted of phone hacking with royal reporter Clive Goodman in 2006.
Following the renewed police investigation into the full extent of hacking, he admitted three more counts of conspiring to hack phones plus a fourth count of hacking the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002 - an act which eventually led to the closure of the NotW in 2011.
While Coulson was in charge, the NotW was hacking a host of royals, celebrities, politicians and ordinary members of the public on an industrial scale amid intense competition for exclusive stories, the trial heard.
Prosecutor Andrew Edis QC said the Sunday tabloid was "utterly corrupt" and "became a thoroughly criminal enterprise".
The list of victims whose private lives were invaded read like a "Who's Who of Britain in the first five years of the century", he said.
In mitigation, Coulson's lawyer Timothy Langdale QC said at the time, no one in the newspaper industry realised phone hacking was illegal and the company lawyers did not even tell him.
Earlier this week, Thurlbeck's lawyer said Coulson had not been truthful in his evidence and he never ordered his client to stop phone hacking when he told him about David Blunkett's voicemail to Kimberly Quinn in 2004.
Hugh Davies QC said: "No such disapproval of the practice was given by Mr Coulson. There was no direction to stop."
Weatherup's lawyer said phone hacking was "endemic" at the NotW and ultimate responsibility lay at more "senior editorial levels".
Charles Bott QC said: "We have gone from rogue reporter to rogue reporter-plus - but neither of those reflect the truth. Phone hacking was condoned and encouraged by senior managers at the NotW for the simple reason it was an expedient and cost-effective way to obtain information."
Miskiw's lawyer Trevor Burke QC asked the judge to take account of his early guilty plea and the fact he had expressed "genuine remorse".
Gavin Millar QC, for Mulcaire, said his client had already been jailed for phone hacking in 2007 and questioned whether he should be punished again.
Since he served his time, the married 43-year-old from Sutton in south London had not only faced bankruptcy but also become the "personification" of the NotW scandal in the media, he said.
Coulson's co-defendants Rebekah Brooks and managing editor Stuart Kuttner denied any wrongdoing and were cleared of all charges last week.
The prosecution had applied for £750,000 costs to be paid following the 139-day trial. The maximum sentence for phone hacking is two years in prison.