It was touch-and-go whether the Spaniard would resume ahead of the man closest to him in the standings but, ironically, Webber was delayed just enough by Toro Rosso's Alguersuari - before the Red Bull protégé moved over for him - to allow the Ferrari back in front.
The pair were now running directly behind Petrov but, despite their supposed performance advantage - and the Russian's propensity for off-track moments - the Renault held firm for lap after lap, effectively destroying two championship ambitions in one.
The least Alonso needed to combat a Vettel victory was fourth on the road but, with both McLarens running strongly, and Robert Kubica making the most of missing the pole position
shoot-out to start on the harder Bridgestones and run deep into the race, the Spaniard's chances unravelled.
Hamilton and Vettel pitted a lap apart, on the 23rd and 24th tours respectively, allowing Button to assume the lead, but the German's in-lap pace and Red Bull's efficiency in pit-lane allowed him to emerge, not only in front of his British rival, but also with Kubica between them. With the pressure removed, Vettel was able to control the remainder of the race.
He did not return to the front of the field for another 15 laps, as Button again used his trademark smooth style to coax his supersoft tyres well into the second half of the race, but, when he did, only a misfortune of Korean proportions was going to deny him.
Button could have been on for second place, moreso ironically if he had pitted a couple of laps earlier, but returned to the track behind his team-mate, with McLaren eventually assuming second and third places once Kubica finally made his stop just nine laps from the chequered flag.
The tactic did not quite pay off for the Pole, as he also dropped to fifth behind Rosberg, the Mercedes man showing the benefit of stopping under the safety car. Similarly, Petrov benefited from his early tyre change, frustrating Alonso and Webber to the end - and appearing to endure the Spaniard's wrath as they returned to parc ferme
. Ferrari-powered Alguersuari, meanwhile, kept Massa at bay to claim two points for Toro Rosso.
Vettel, understandably, was tearful as he crossed the line, the German replacing Lewis Hamilton as the youngest champion in F1 history and handing Red Bull its first drivers' title just a week after the Milton Keynes team clinched the constructors' crown. As he peeled the hologram helmet from his head, the balaclava underneath bore the legend 'Monza' - the venue for the 2008 race at which the German convinced observers that he was a champion in waiting.
The final margin was four points, with Alonso ending the season ten ahead of Webber, who only just survived being overhauled by Hamilton. The Spaniard was more magnanimous in parc ferme
, vowing to bounce back next season having won as many races as his young rival but, having had a taste of top spot, Vettel will be a hard man to beat.