A standard is a technical document specifying how a technology behaves. (For some technologies, it may be some other kind of technical standard.) That's all they are and why they exist: they are documents, and they describe the technology.
These documents are authored by a governing body which has the authority and trust necessary for them to be able to decide how that technology works, and for people to care when they release a specification document as a standard. A governing body could produce many standards, for different technologies or different versions of a technology. The governing body could also be known as maintainers, authors, custodians, etc of the standards.
(Contrast to what Mathew describes, a standard is not the governing body nor the technology itself. It's a document describing the technology, or a particular version of it.)
Some example standards for technologies you've mentioned (and others):
- The SOAP standard, maintained by W3C.
- The URI standard, defined in STD66, maintained by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), who also work on...
- The HTTP 1.1 Specifications, authored by the HTTP Working Group. These are Requests For Comment (RFCs), but nevertheless specify how HTTP works. These standards are actually very new, only having been released in June 2014. HTTP 1.1 was previously defined in RFC 2616, by the IETF Network Working Group.
- HTML's specifications, defined in the HTML Living Standard. It's authored by the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG). W3C republishes and forks various versions of this standard, releasing them as HTML 4, XHTML 1.0, and HTML5 among other versions. WHATWG is unhappy about them doing this.
- Java has a standard, maintained by Oracle. Its various versions have different standards, and you can download the Java EE 7 standard yourself.
- The C# Language Specification 5.0, authored by a team at Microsoft. Previous versions have their own separate specification documents.
HTML is a good example of the fact that different versions of a language will often have different standards. The various versions have different documents describing how various versions of the language ought to be handled.
HTTP, meanwhile, is one of the many examples of a standard moving between groups: first by the Network Working Group, then to the HTTP Working Group, though both groups were part of the IETF. Other technologies have moved between companies, such as HTML (again), version 2 of which was authored by the IETF in RFC1866.
Why do standards exist?
They exist to give us a guarantee of how things will work.
The HTML5 specification tells me how the various browsers will handle and display the HTML5 markup I write, assuming they implement the standard correctly (which has historically been a problem). The C++11 standard will tell me things about what various C++11 code I write will or won't do.
Likewise, if I'm writing a browser, the HTML5 standard will tell me how I need to handle various pieces of HTML5 markup so that people get what they expect. If I'm writing a C++11 compiler, the C++11 standard will tell me what I need to do to implement the language correctly and get peoples' code working the way they expect it to work.
For instance, Microsoft authors C#. You can download the C# Language Specification 5.0 for yourself. This document is a promise that the C# code you write ought to behave the way it's described in the specification, in any compiler that actually implements the specification correctly.
(If you do things outside the specification, you're in undefined territory and there's no guarantee whatsoever about what will or won't happen.)
Historically, standards go back to things like screw threads, so that I can have some guarantee that if I order a screw of type X, it will fit in the hole I've drilled, and will be interchangeable with other screws of type X.
Which brings us back to the definition of the word "standard":
an accepted or approved example of something against which others are judged or measured — Collins Dictionary
An acknowledged measure of comparison for quantitative or qualitative value; a criterion. — The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
i.e. the thing you compare your stuff to to make sure you'll get what you expect.