Thornton got his 1,050th assist when he set up Kevin Labanc's goal on a 2-on-1 to make it 6-1 at 17:30 of the second period. It was Thornton's 1,541st regular-season game, passing Shane Doan and Johnny Bucyk for 15th in NHL history, and the assist gave the 39-year-old center 1,457 points, moving him into a tie with Teemu Selanne for 15th in NHL history.
"Growing up close to Detroit, my brother is a huge Red Wing fan, my dad was a huge Gordie fan," Thornton said. "I had the honor to meet Gordie a couple of times, he took the time to talk to me and it meant the world to me, to pass a guy like that, very humbling, I really don't deserve to be in the same breath as him. Yeah, It's a special moment."
[WATCH: All Sharks vs. Canucks highlights]
Evander Kane had two goals, and Timo Meier, Melker Karlsson, Tomas Hertl and Joe Pavelski scored for San Jose (34-16-7), which moved into first place in the Western Conference.
"[First place doesn't mean] as much as what Joe Thornton accomplished," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "When you pass Gordie Howe on any list, I don't care what list it is, that's the story of the night. That's an unbelievable accomplishment, unbelievable career, and something that should be really celebrated, and our whole group is excited we were here to witness it."
Bo Horvat and Derrick Pouliot scored, and Michael DiPietro made 17 saves in his NHL debut for the Canucks (25-25-7), who have one win in the past five games.
DiPietro was called up from Ottawa of the Ontario Hockey League on an emergency basis Feb. 4 because Thatcher Demko injured his knee and the Canucks have no other healthy goalies under NHL contract. A lower-body injury to No. 1 goalie Jacob Markstrom led to the 19-year-old's debut.
The Sharks jumped out to a 3-0 lead on their first five shots on goal.
"Definitely not the ideal first game, but it's something I've dreamt about my entire life and to have the opportunity this young to do it, it's something that's positive for me, that I'll take as a learning experience," said DiPietro, who was selected by Vancouver in the third round (No. 64) in the 2017 NHL Draft. "When you focus on the negatives too much, you're going to feel like an ant in the net."
Video: SJS@VAN: Meier buries 20th goal of the season
Meier was left open just above the crease for a one-touch shot off a Logan Couture pass from below the goal line to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead at 1:04. Couture had two assists for San Jose.
Kane made it 2-0 at 3:22 with a high backhand flip from the blue line that Canucks defenseman Ben Hutton tried to bat out of the air in the slot but instead deflected in off DiPietro's raised blocker.
Karlsson deflected a Brent Burns point shot in tight to make it 3-0 at 8:48.
"We knew he was young and getting his first game, so if we could get to him early, we thought that would help and so to get one that early and kind of get a fluky one there, you feel for the kid at the end of the night," said Pavelski, who got his 400th NHL assist on Meier's goal.
Horvat made it 3-1 with his 20th goal off a cross-ice pass from Elias Pettersson with seven seconds left in the first period, but Kane scored on the rush from the top of the left face-off circle to give San Jose a 4-1 lead 4:36 into the second.
Video: SJS@VAN: Kane pads Sharks' lead with second goal
Hertl chipped in a backdoor pass from Joonas Donskoi on the rush at 11:00 to make it 5-1.
After Labanc's goal, Pouliot made it 6-2 at 12:06 of the third period when he scored off a pass from Zack MacEwen, who made his NHL debut.
Pavelski made it 7-2 when he tipped Brenden Dillon's shot from the left point with 5:55 left.
"You kind of feel bad for the guy, we've been kind of on a roll, tough position to put the young goalie in," Thornton said of DiPietro. "We needed the two points, I just feel bad for him."
Martin Jones made 25 saves for the Sharks. He is 13-2-0 in his past 15 starts.
They said it
"I knew Gordie [Howe], he was an owner of my junior team, and I was very fortunate to get to spend some time with him and take in his wisdom, so obviously a very special person, a very special hockey player, and the same can be said for Jumbo." -- Sharks forward Evander Kane on Joe Thornton passing Howe for ninth in assists in NHL history
"It's pretty cool taking a look up and seeing Joe Thornton and [Joe] Pavelski across the ice and shooting on me. Obviously, when they score on you, it's not too good, but I had to pinch myself to just stay in the moment." -- Canucks goalie Michael DiPietro on making his NHL debut as an emergency call-up
Need to know
The Sharks are 11-0-1 against the Canucks since a 4-2 loss in San Jose on March 31, 2016. … San Jose center Dylan Gambrell missed the game with the flu. … Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson missed his eighth straight game with a lower-body injury, but DeBoer said he is "really close" to returning. … Canucks coach Travis Green said he didn't want to risk a longer injury by playing Markstrom, who is day to day and hopeful to play Wednesday against the Anaheim Ducks. … DiPietro is the seventh goalie since 1995-96 to play in the Canadian Hockey League and start a game in the NHL in the same season, first since Jonathan Bernier (Lewiston of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League/Los Angeles Kings) in 2007-08.
Sharks: Host the Washington Capitals on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSCA, NBCSWA, NHL.TV)
Canucks: At the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET; ESPN+, SN1, FS-W, NHL.TV)
Video: Kane, Thornton help Sharks down Canucks, 7-2