Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard scored the goals that sent England marching to Brazil after a breathless and at times nerve-jangling confrontation with Poland at Wembley.
Rooney rose to guide home Leighton Baines' cross four minutes from half-time on a raucous evening, which a Polish contingent in excess of 20,000 at times made it feel like an away day.
It was the Manchester United man's 38th England goal, and his ninth in 10 games, confirming his status as his team's talisman heading into yet another major tournament.
However, after spurning a succession of chances, both before and after Rooney's goal, to evoke memories of that awful night in 1973 when 'the clown' Jan Tomaszewski denied them, it took a captain's intervention from Gerrard two minutes from time to ensure England will take their place on the greatest stage next summer.
Manager Roy Hodgson, who lived every minute in glorious agony, leapt to the air in jubilation, becoming only the sixth Englishman to take his country into a World Cup finals.
Hodgson joins an illustrious list, including Walter Winterbottom, Sir Alf Ramsey, Ron Greenwood, Bobby Robson and Glenn Hoddle, and can now look ahead to December's draw knowing the minimum task for his tenure has been achieved.
If the Football Association thought doubling the Polish allocation to 18,000 would deter visitors from entering areas of the stadium supposed to be reserved for home fans, it was sadly mistaken.
The noise following the national anthems was akin to a match in Warsaw.
Smoke from numerous red flares wafted around the ground at kick-off and every English touch was greeted with loud whistles.
If nothing else, it did sweep away any tension as the home supporters were too busy attempting to match their rivals in the stands to start panicking about the result.
It would not be England, though, if the task was not to be achieved without some degree of pain.
A defence in which the suspended Kyle Walker had been replaced by Chris Smalling lacked cohesion - or vision, for that matter - given the space Robert Lewandowski was afforded to gallop into as Poland broke from deep inside their own half.
One of Europe's most feared strikers had virtually reached the edge of the box before anyone closed in, too late to stop Lewandowski firing at goal, although Joe Hart saved easily.
If that was a scare, Poland's next opportunity was a heart-stopper.
Adrian Mierzejewski was not picked up by Andros Townsend as he broke over halfway and, when Jakub Blaszczykowski allowed the square pass to run through his legs, Lewandowski arrived, unopposed, to carry it on.
It was to Hodgson's relief the Borussia Dortmund man had been exhausted by his long surge. First he stumbled, then he dragged his shot wide, when virtually the entire stadium expected the ball to be nestling in the net.
On the bench, Hodgson was shown mouthing an expletive confirming his relief.
On his last appearance at this stadium, Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny made the mistake that gifted Birmingham their shock Carling Cup win over Arsenal.
On Tuesday night he was trying to make headlines of a different sort, saving from Townsend, Danny Welbeck twice and Rooney as England poured forward.
In addition, Smalling came agonisingly close to touching home Gerrard's free-kick, Sturridge nearly profited from some kamikaze defending in the Polish box and Townsend curled a shot against the bar that had Carrick raising his arms in celebration.
With Welbeck also lashing wide after tip-toeing over a pile of prone bodies, it began to feel like one of those evenings.
But, as half-time approached, Rooney struck.
The goal was typically English in its simplicity but due credit should be paid to Michael Carrick, for having the vision to pick out Baines with a first-time pass, and the Everton man for the brilliance of his delivery.
Had Gary Cahill nodded Gerrard's corner in at the start of the second half, or Grzegorz Krychowiak toed the ball home when his sliding intervention left Szczesny stranded and helpless, England could have started to breathe.
Instead they were indebted to Hart's bravery as he blocked Lewandowski's delicate effort after he had nipped behind England's tiring defence.
Showing a touch of naivety you maybe would not see from Italy, the hosts pushed on.
Szczesny denied Rooney and Sturridge, before Gerrard, driving into the visitors' box like the leader he so obviously is, chipped over Szczesny to send England into raptures.
Rooney revels in England's success
Wayne Rooney hailed what he believes are "good times" for England after the Three Lions booked their place at next summer's World Cup in Brazil.
The striker's header set Roy Hodgson's men on their way to a 2-0 win over Poland at Wembley which ensured they topped Group H.
Progression was secured by victory over Montenegro on Friday and this victory, and Rooney was a pleased man - especially after captain Steven Gerrard put the icing on the cake late on.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game, they had a couple of breaks and could have scored, but we played some great stuff in the first and second half," he told ITV.
"Getting the goal gave us some belief, the confidence to go on. We believed we could win and then Stevie's goal has seen us qualify."
The Manchester United man added: "A big part of our preparation was being patient. We knew we may even have to win the game in the last 10, five minutes. We kept our focus and deserved to win.
"We always remained positive no matter what was said. We had a great focus and belief going into these two games. That came out.
"We have some fantastic young players, experienced ones like Steve, Frank (Lampard) and me, we have a good blend, are looking forward, excited and these are good times for England."
Captain Gerrard, who led from the front as he has done throughout an unbeaten qualiftying campaign, added: "Tonight we started really well. The big lesson is to play better in the second half. Against better teams we might get hurt. We need to keep the ball better.
"But what we have shown is, when the going gets tough, we don't concede goals."
England have faced some media and fan criticism throughout the campaign, but Gerrard said: "Since I made my England debut there has always been criticism from the outside. What it makes you do is work harder to prove people wrong.
"We have a great togetherness, are there for each other and proved we can perform under pressure."
When Gerrard's goal went in Hodgson danced a jig while assistant Ray Lewington sprinted down the touchline.
"That second goal took about 10 years off both of us - and I need it more than Ray," Hodgson told ITV.
"I have great satisfaction. This was a very tough group with literally a lot of tough games. Ukraine, Poland, Montenegro have all shown themselves to be very good opponents.
"I am delighted for the players. We played some sensational football in the first half and in the second, when the Poles had not so much to lose, we dug in, worked hard to control them.
"Luckily Steve's goal gave Ray the chance to show his sprinting ability!"
Hodgson will now take England to a second major tournament having led them at Euro 2012, taking the job on the eve of the event.
He felt this qualification was a reward for getting better as time went on, as well as the fitness and performances of his players, both old and new.
"I think we have been getting better all the time," he added.
"The results that spoiled, so it's not an unblemished record, are the away games we only drew.
"But we knew we had these games, were coming strong, had players coming back from injury.
"We have also found an outstanding winger in (Andros) Townsend who has played two games as if he's been there all his life.
"When you perform that well in front of 90,000 everyone will look. It's when he's not outstanding that people will ask 'what's happened to Andros Townsend' but he will deal with that."
England were disappointing at the Euros last year, but Hodgson is confident of a better showing by the beaches of Brazil.
"I'd like to think we will do a lot better," he said.
"We have been working together for 18 months, the way we try and play has changed quite a lot and I would like to think in the months we have we might get better still.
"We need to keep the players together and as a group they really care."
England v Poland: Player ratings
JOE HART: Brilliant stop to deny Poland striker Robert Lewandowski an equaliser. Was thankful the other Polish opportunities were off target - 8/10.
CHRIS SMALLING: Nervous opening almost proved very costly. Settled to his task well and nearly touched home Steven Gerrard's free-kick - 7.
LEIGHTON BAINES: Brilliant cross for Wayne Rooney's goal. Not absolutely perfect defensively but that moment made up for it - 8.
STEVEN GERRARD: Used all his experience in the early bedlam to keep England calm and then scored the goal to ensure victory - 8.
GARY CAHILL: Major tussle with Lewandowski and just about edged it. Came close to scoring in second-half - 7.
PHIL JAGIELKA: Steady as she goes from Everton man, who is looking increasingly at ease in the international arena - 7.
ANDROS TOWNSEND: Lost his man as Poland created their best chance but thunderous shot against bar - 7.
MICHAEL CARRICK: Brought in to retain possession and did just that to help set up Rooney's goal - 7.
DANIEL STURRIDGE: Does not always do the right thing but young enough to learn. Nearly wrapped it up at the end - 7.
WAYNE ROONEY: Goal number 38 and nine in 10 games for the Manchester United man. Now is the time for big performance at major tournament - 9.
DANNY WELBECK: Menace around the box but did not have his shooting boots on this time - 7.
FRANK LAMPARD (for Carrick, 70): Just getting to pace of game when booked - 6.
JAMES MILNER (for Townsend, 86): Not enough time to make an impression - 5.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY: Arsenal goalkeeper could do little about Rooney's header, but had earlier saved well from both Townsend and Welbeck. Made acrobatic stop in second half to deny Rooney and also Sturridge - 8.
GRZEGORZ WOJTKOWIAK: The 1860 Munich full-back was given a testing night by the drive of Townsend and did well not to be drawn out of position more - 6.
ARTUR JEDRZEJCZYK: Defender who plays for Krasnodar in Russia was kept busy by an industrous display from Strurridge and also had to drop deep to keep an eye on Rooney - 6.
KAMIL GLIK: Torino centre-half was another who had his work cut out as England pressed, particulary in the second half, when Rooney came into the match more - 6.
PIOTR CELEBAN: Had to face up to the challenge of Welbeck, who was a different proposition from those usually faced when playing for Vaslui in Romania - 6.
JAKUB BLASZCZYKOWSKI: Poland captain and Borussia Dortmund midfielder provided a good link up for what was a lively counter-attack. Lovely step-over helped set up best chance for Lewandowski - 7.
ADRIAN MIERZEJEWSKI: Trabzonspor midfielder tried to match Carrick in the middle, but that restricted his attacking threat - 6.
GRZEGORZ KRYCHOWIAK: Reims midfielder looked to double up on Baines, but more often than not drew the foul and nearly scored an own goal in the second half - 6.
WALDEMAR SOBOTA: Outcome could have been so different had the Club Brugge midfielder slotted home an early chance instead of rippling the side-netting. When he did get the ball the right side of the posts, his effort was ruled offside, just - 7.
MARIUSZ LEWANDOWSKI: Veteran defensive midfielder, who now plys his trade in the Ukraine with Sevastopol, did not have much of an impact and was no surprise to see him replaced at half-time - 6.
ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI: Dortmund forward usually dispatches chances more testing than the big one which came his way at Wembley. Never really recovered to present much of a threat in the final third - 5.
MATEUSZ KLICH (for M Lewandowski, 46): Zwolle midfielder, 23, brought some more energey to Poland's midfield in the second half - 6.
SLAWOMIR PESZKO (for Sobota, 64): Former on-loan Wolves man offered Poland some width down the left as they looked to mount a fightback - 6.
PIOTR ZIELINSKI (for Mierzejewski, 75): Little time for the Udinese 19-year-old to make a major impact - 6.
Eight minutes: Artur Jedrzejczyk cuts out Leighton Baines' cross just before Danny Welbeck can tap in.
Nine: Robert Lewandowski races up the other end, but Hart saves well from the striker.
10: Wojciech Szczesny spills Townsend's shot, but Welbeck arrives too late to follow up.
13: Waldemar Sobota's shot ripples the side-netting of Hart's goal.
21: Chris Smalling fluffs a shot from six yards out.
22: Hearts in mouths time as Poland have three on three on the counter. Luckily for England, Robert Lewandowski drags his shot wide.
26: Townsend rattles the bar and Szczesny saves Daniel Sturridge's follow-up.
30: Welbeck lashes a shot wide from eight yards.
31: Welbeck misses another chance after a square flick from Gerrard.
41: Wembley Stadium erupts as Wayne Rooney nods home Leighton Baines' cross to put England 1-0 up.
45: Gary Cahill puts in a crucial block to deny substitute Mateusz Klich.
50: Szczesny puts in a top-class save to push away Cahill's goal-bound header.
60: Hart saves from Lewandowski after he is set free through the middle.
68: Szczesny pulls off an athletic diving save to stop Rooney's curler.
78: Another incredible save from Szczesny - this time to deny Sturridge.
88: After a nervy final few minutes, Gerrard seals the win with a clever clip past Szczesny.
Wayne Rooney scored to help England win Tuesday night's World Cup qualifier 2-0 against Poland and send Roy Hodgson's men to Brazil next summer.
Here, Press Association Sport's Jim van Wijk examines the overall impact of the Manchester United forward in a man-of-the-match display at Wembley.
Before his crucial header to give England the lead just before half-time, Rooney had hardly been in the match. Nevertheless, the United forward did not let his tempo drop and, after losing his protective headband, suddenly sprung back into life just when his country needed him. Picked up a late caution for cleaning out Poland substitute Slawomir Peszko to halt a counter-attack.
Again paired with Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge, Rooney showed his experience in being able to both drop deep when needed as well as quickly release his forward partner on the overlap or bring others better placed into the transition. Took most of England's corners, which often created problems in the Poland six-yard box.
United frontman had not really been given much chance in front of goal before he arrived on queue in the six-yard box to head England into the lead just before the break from a fine cross by left-back Leighton Baines. Forced a fine save from Wojciech Szczesny on 66 minutes with a 20-yard curling effort.
Rooney delivered when it mattered most. There can be no doubting the impact of England's main striker in the qualifying campaign. Ahead, though, will be the ultimate test of whether he can finally produce on the biggest stage of all in Brazil next summer.
Andros Townsend watch
Andros Townsend produced another impressive display for England in Tuesday night's final World Cup qualifier against Poland.
Here,we examine the impact of the Tottenham winger at Wembley.
Townsend was quick to get on the ball, eager to build on his impressive debut against Montenegro last week. Showed early intent when exchanging quick passes with captain Steven Gerrard and was quick to test Poland keeper Wojciech Szczesny.
Spurs man was always looking to provide an outlet down the right, giving full-back Grzegorz Wojtkowiak a run for his money. Plenty of purposful breaks, but was often let down by choice of final ball.
Townsend created an early opening when he beat two men on the edge of the Poland box and struck his shot well enough to have Arsenal's number one squirming across the six-yard box. Crashed a superb 25-yard effort against the crossbar on 27 minutes.
While Townsend did not have the same telling impact as he did on his debut, there was again plenty to suggest the Spurs winger would be a welcome addition on the plane to Brazil.