This is a great question!
As far as muscle recruitment goes, the bent-over barbell rows do yield the most muscle activity for the lats (back) and the biceps during EMG (electromyographic studies); however, this is only when you comparing with other bent-over row exercises (dumbbell, cable, etc.).
Regarding the most effective lat and bicep exercises, studies have shown that doing pull-ups and chin-ups are more effective than doing bent-over rows; however, the lat pull-down is a great alternative lat exercise if the pull-up bar is not available or for someone who simply cannot perform many pull-ups or chin-ups in a row (5-10 for examples). And with this being said, I do think that bent-over barbell rows or dumbbell rows are great alternative exercises for the back if the lat pull-down is not available. Hope this answers that particular question.
It doesn't matter if you perform the bent-over rows towards your lower or upper rib-cage. However, I think the main reason that you are feeling the upper trap muscle is being targeted more is possibly due to muscular imbalances. From a physical therapist standpoint, what I'm saying is that your scapular (shoulder blade) stabilizers, particularly the mid trap and lower trap are weaker than the upper trap (which is very common in many weight lifters and many people in general).
So, when doing bent-over rows, your scapular stabilizers give out first, so your upper trap will kick in for compensation, and that is one possible reason why you feel like your upper trap is hammered up to your neck.
Try performing the prone T's and Y's exercises a couple times per week (3 sets of 20 reps), focusing on squeezing your shoulder blades together for about 3-4 weeks, then try bent-over rows again and see that will help for this particular problem. Also, give your upper trap a few good stretches during breaks between sets next time. You can google upper trap stretches and prone T's and Y's for more information on how to perform them correctly.