It was a fitting end to a race that has fluctuated between both teams in the most dramatic circumstances.
Contrasting scenes at Stadium of Light and Etihad Stadium
United were made to pay for letting an eight-point lead as little as five weeks ago slip and, despite their final-day efforts, they will look back on a season where, when they needed to step up, they fell flat.
Two defeats in five games coming into this contest,
and a draw with Everton,
ultimately cost Sir Alex Ferguson's side in what became the most extraordinary finale to the league championship since Arsenal beat Liverpool at Anfield in 1989.
United were value for their win and Rooney could have had a hat-trick before half-time, with Paul Scholes also striking the post in the second half.
Rooney and his team-mates started ponderously, as if sensing the enormity of the occasion, but once Scholes began to link with Ryan Giggs in the middle of the park, the visitors increased the tempo with Sunderland struggling to keep up.
The Black Cats contributed to their own downfall for the only goal when Titus Bramble, making his first appearance since Boxing Day, and Michael Turner, let Phil Jones' cross bounce across the six-yard box as Rooney tucked in at the back post.
Near miss for Man Utd
Manchester United's 89 points is the highest for the runners-up in 20 seasons of the Premier League.
The United striker could have doubled his tally when his free-kick struck the bar from 20 yards, and he should have converted when Ashley Young fired towards goal from Antonio Valencia's cross.
Former United striker Fraizer Campbell volleyed a great chance wide from 12 yards after Stephane Sessegnon's clever chip, but United were largely in control by the break.
The home supporters were growing frustrated by several free-kicks awarded to United, and they wasted little time in mocking the 2,600 visiting fans when City took the lead against QPR, but Ferguson's team were quicker to the ball and using their five-man midfield to better effect.
And from another clever exchange, Rooney was again denied when Simon Mignolet stopped his fierce strike just after the break.
The United fans were given a huge boost when news filtered through of QPR's equaliser at Etihad Stadium, but it was Sunderland who were lifted as they appealed for a penalty when Sessegnon was brought down in the penalty box.
The contest was a lot more even in the second half, as the wind swirled around the Stadium of Light, but it took Craig Gardner's superb block to prevent Young getting on the scoresheet.
After the hour mark, events in Manchester were almost becoming a distraction such was the thunderous cheer from the United fans to greet QPR taking their unlikely lead against City.
At that stage, Ferguson's side were on course to be champions, and they almost went 2-0 up when Scholes hit the post, with Mignolet saving from Giggs after a quick break.
But as United saw the game out, little did they know that, having looked likely to win their 13th Premier League title, it was City who turned the table to snatch glory from their arch-rivals' grasp.
Corner taken short by Ryan Giggs, clearance made by James McClean.
Titus Bramble concedes a free kick for a foul on Wayne Rooney. Strike comes in from Wayne Rooney from the free kick.
Connor Wickham challenges Antonio Valencia unfairly and gives away a free kick. The free kick is swung in left-footed by Ryan Giggs, save made by Simon Mignolet.
Craig Gardner gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Ryan Giggs. Paul Scholes takes the free kick.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Ryan Giggs on James McClean. Direct free kick taken by Simon Mignolet.
Substitution Luis Nani is brought on as a substitute for Ashley Young.
Ashley Young produces a right-footed shot from just outside the box that misses to the right of the goal.
Outswinging corner taken by Ryan Giggs from the right by-line, Wayne Bridge manages to make a clearance.
Shot by Ryan Giggs. Save by Simon Mignolet.
Effort from just outside the penalty box by Paul Scholes strikes the post.
Free kick taken by Titus Bramble.
Substitution Connor Wickham replaces David Vaughan.
Foul by Wayne Rooney on James McClean, free kick awarded.
Wayne Rooney fouled by David Vaughan, the ref awards a free kick. Patrice Evra takes the free kick.
Ahmed Elmohamady takes the free kick.
Booking Caution for Paul Scholes.
Paul Scholes challenges Ahmed Elmohamady unfairly and gives away a free kick.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on James McClean by Phil Jones. Craig Gardner takes the free kick.
A cross is delivered by Wayne Rooney, Michael Turner manages to make a clearance.
Corner taken by Ashley Young, Simon Mignolet makes a save.
Ryan Giggs has an effort direct from the free kick. Centre by Antonio Valencia, Titus Bramble manages to make a clearance.
Booking Michael Turner goes into the book for unsporting behaviour.
Michael Turner gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Paul Scholes.
James McClean challenges Antonio Valencia unfairly and gives away a free kick. Michael Carrick takes the direct free kick.
Outswinging corner taken left-footed by James McClean from the left by-line, save by David De Gea.
James McClean delivers the ball, Phil Jones makes a clearance.
The ball is swung over by Ashley Young, save made by Simon Mignolet.
Ahmed Elmohamady challenges Wayne Rooney unfairly and gives away a free kick. David De Gea takes the free kick.
Wayne Bridge takes the direct free kick.
Substitution Phillip Bardsley goes off and Wayne Bridge comes on.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Phillip Bardsley by Antonio Valencia.
Outswinging corner taken by Ryan Giggs, Titus Bramble makes a clearance.
The ball is crossed by Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young takes a shot. Craig Gardner gets a block in.
Ryan Giggs takes the inswinging corner, Shot by Michael Carrick. Phil Jones gets a block in.
Phillip Bardsley delivers the ball, save by David De Gea.
Craig Gardner restarts play with the free kick.
Booking Ryan Giggs goes into the referee's book.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Ryan Giggs on Ahmed Elmohamady.
The ball is delivered by Craig Gardner.
Centre by James McClean, Shot by Phillip Bardsley from 20 yards. Jonathan Evans gets a block in.
Stephane Sessegnon gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Paul Scholes. Direct free kick taken by Paul Scholes.
Ahmed Elmohamady concedes a free kick for a foul on Ashley Young. A cross is delivered by Ashley Young, Phil Jones has a headed effort at goal from deep inside the area missing to the right of the goal.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Patrice Evra on Ahmed Elmohamady. Direct free kick taken by Craig Gardner.
Wayne Rooney takes a shot from 12 yards. Save made by Simon Mignolet.
The referee gets the second half started.
45:00 +2:08 Half time
Half Time The whistle is blown to end the first half.
The ball is swung over by Patrice Evra, Antonio Valencia takes a shot. Save made by Simon Mignolet.
The ball is sent over by Ashley Young.
David Vaughan takes a shot. Michael Carrick gets a block in.
The ball is swung over by Ahmed Elmohamady, Phil Jones makes a clearance.
Substitution Ahmed Elmohamady comes on in place of John O'Shea.
Antonio Valencia sends in a cross, save by Simon Mignolet.
The ball is crossed by Ashley Young.
Shot by James McClean. Blocked by Jonathan Evans.
A cross is delivered by David Vaughan, Patrice Evra makes a clearance.
Free kick taken by Simon Mignolet.
Booking Phil Jones booked.
Phil Jones gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on James McClean.
Stephane Sessegnon produces a cross, Fraizer Campbell produces a volleyed right-footed shot from deep inside the penalty area which goes wide of the left-hand post.
Centre by Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young takes a shot. Wayne Rooney has an effort at goal from close in which goes wide left of the target.
Antonio Valencia gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on James McClean. Free kick taken by Simon Mignolet.
Patrice Evra restarts play with the free kick.
Booking Phillip Bardsley is shown a yellow card.
Foul by Phillip Bardsley on Ashley Young, free kick awarded.
Titus Bramble concedes a free kick for a foul on Wayne Rooney. Wayne Rooney fires a strike on goal direct from the free kick.
Ryan Giggs takes a shot. Save by Simon Mignolet.
David Vaughan gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Paul Scholes. Shot comes in from Ryan Giggs from the free kick.
Free kick taken by Rio Ferdinand.
Booking Fraizer Campbell is given a yellow card.
Unfair challenge on Patrice Evra by Fraizer Campbell results in a free kick.
Unfair challenge on Phil Jones by James McClean results in a free kick. Jonathan Evans takes the free kick.
Assist by Phil Jones.
19:39 Goal scored
Goal! - Wayne Rooney - Sunderland 0 - 1 Man Utd Wayne Rooney grabs a headed goal from close in. Sunderland 0-1 Man Utd.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Ashley Young on Phillip Bardsley. Phillip Bardsley restarts play with the free kick.
Corner taken by Ryan Giggs, Header on goal by Phil Jones from inside the box goes harmlessly over the target.
The ball is swung over by Ryan Giggs, clearance made by Titus Bramble.
Craig Gardner sends in a cross.
Centre by Ashley Young, save made by Simon Mignolet.
Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Ryan Giggs played to the near post, clearance by Titus Bramble.
Corner from left by-line crossed in by Ashley Young, Phillip Bardsley makes a clearance.
The ball is sent over by Patrice Evra, Michael Turner manages to make a clearance.
A cross is delivered by Antonio Valencia, clearance by Michael Turner.
Antonio Valencia crosses the ball, save made by Simon Mignolet.
David Vaughan has an effort at goal from 25 yards. David De Gea makes a save.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Ryan Giggs on Phillip Bardsley. Simon Mignolet restarts play with the free kick.
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