The Black Cats moved one victory away from relegation Newcastle and Norwich City by coming from behind to beat the Blues and move 17th in the Premier League table, one point clear of their fellow strugglers.
Jermain Defoe fired home a 70th-minute winner, three minutes after Fabio Borini levelled up at two goals apiece, for what proved an epic victory at the Stadium of Light.
In contrast, it was a miserable afternoon for Newcastle, whose 0-0 draw at Villa - who brought an 11-match losing streak into the clash at Villa Park - saw them drop back into the bottom three, having played one game more than than both Sunderland and Norwich.
Sam Allardyce's side now just need to beat Everton at the Stadium of Light during the week to guarantee their top-flight status for at least another season.
What a day Sunderland fans what a game what a win , Newcastle fans you can't even beat villa has this result cost you 0500909693 @bbc606— Robbie Savage (@RobbieSavage8) May 7, 2016