Button, whose KERS 'failure' was intermittent and forced the Briton not only to reset the system, but also to play braking roulette without knowing whether he'd have the extra assistance that KERS usually provides. His second stop fitted the expected primes, but dropped the Briton behind Rosberg's Mercedes, while Massa ran ahead of the German as he searched for his first top four finish of the year.
At the same time, however, Alonso's refusal to give up on his chase of Hamilton added extra intrigue to the battle at the front as the gap between the top two closed to jut over a second as the leader pitted for the final time. Alonso now needed to push harder still if he was to move ahead and claim an unlikely victory but, despite relentless effort, his chances of emerging ahead of the McLaren was hampered by finding an HRT heading for the pits immediately ahead of him. A slightly slower than usual stop also added to Alonso's woe, and Hamilton was comfortably back in front by the time both were back on track.
Red Bull's tactical switch for Webber also required the Australian to bang in qualifying style laps, and he responded, racking up a series of fastest times as he homed in on Button. The difference in the tyre performance was evident as he caught and passed the McLaren for fourth, but time was running out for Webber to stop again and rejoin ahead of his rival.
While Hamilton continued to reign supreme out front, holding Alonso's continued challenge at arm's length, Massa's chances of recording his best finish of the season ended when the Brazilian lost his car with a handful of laps to run. Although Yas Marina's expansive run-off areas meant that he did not hit anything, the Ferrari dropped away from Webber, giving the Australian a cushion to at least hold on to fourth at the end.
Red Bull finally made the call with a lap to run, limiting the time the RB7 would have to run on the less favourable prime as much as possible but, as expected, there wasn't enough in hand to prevent Button from claiming the final podium position. That result was enough for the Briton to ensure he finished ahead of Hamilton in the championship, regardless of what his team-mate did on the day, but Button is not yet safe as runner-up to Vettel with one race to run.
Hamilton eventually crossed the line eight seconds ahead of Alonso, punching the air with delight and dedicating the victory - his first since dominating at the Nurburgring in July - to his mother, who was in the crowd of happy McLaren mechanics when he returned to the pit-lane. The Briton's demeanour was clearly different to that of the past couple of races, and it is to be hoped that he can now move on from the demons that have plagued his past few months.
Alonso and Webber remain in the hunt for second overall, despite none of those giving vain chase to Vettel admitting to wanting the position, going to Interlagos ten and 22 points behind Button respectively after finishing second and fourth in the race, while Massa came home ahead of Rosberg, the German having dropped back at his final stop.
Mercedes team-mate Michael Schumacher also added to his points tally despite suffering a puncture in the closing stages and having to park up immediately after taking the flag. The seven-time champion admitted that he had not forced the issue with Rosberg on the opening lap as the younger German was on the better tyre, but was unable to hang onto his tail thereafter.
Force India's decision to run different tyre strategies for Sutil and di Resta paid off with a double points finish, moving the team a little further ahead of both Sauber and Toro Rosso. Kamui Kobayashi's single point for tenth place also broke the tie that existed between the Swiss and Italian outfits before the race. STR's Sebastien Buemi was among the race's four retirements, joining Vettel, Virgin's Jerome d'Ambrosio and HRT's Daniel Ricciardo, while Jaime Alguersuari managed only 15th, coming home four places behind the second Sauber of Perez.
There were issues with drivers ignoring blue flags, which hampered both Hamilton and Alonso, as well as Webber, at different times, and Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna were both penalised, finishing 14th and 16th as a result. Rubens Barrichello, meanwhile, climbed from 23rd to twelfth to end a frustrating weekend on something of a positive note.