Method for the preparation of carbon fiber, which comprises: (i) immersing functionalized polyvinyl precursor fiber into a liquid solution having a boiling point of at least 60.degree. C.; (ii) heating the liquid solution to a first temperature of at least 25.degree. C. at which the functionalized precursor fiber engages in an elimination-addition equilibrium while a tension of at least 0.1 MPa is applied to the fiber; (iii) gradually raising the first temperature to a final temperature that is at least 20.degree. C. above the first temperature and up to the boiling point of the liquid solution for sufficient time to convert the functionalized precursor fiber to a pre-carbonized fiber; and (iv) subjecting the pre-carbonized fiber produced according to step (iii) to high temperature carbonization conditions to produce the final carbon fiber. Articles and devices containing the fibers, including woven and non-woven mats or paper forms of the fibers, are also described.