Rooney scored his 38th international goal after 41 minutes after heading home from Leighton Baines' cross before captain Gerrard netted with two minutes left after a surging run.
And as Robert Lewandowski spurned three chances for an adventurous Poland the goals were enough to send England through to a fifth successive finals in Brazil next year.
Roy Hodgson was willing for history not to repeat itself 40 years on from England being denied qualification for the 1974 World Cup after a 1-1 draw with Poland at Wembley.
Victory over Montenegro on Friday had sought to calm the nerves but with Ukraine all-but guaranteed to beat minnows San Marino, Hodgson's side could ill-afford not to win against a Poland side who despite having nothing to play for brought 18,000 plus fans to Wembley for their final qualifier.
Arsenal's Wojciech Szczesny, without an appearance in qualifying, was chosen in goal ahead of Artur Boruc and was charged with repeating the heroics of Jan Tomaszewski in that infamous draw while Lewandowski spearheaded the attack.
England's team saw two changes from the vital win over Montenegro, which assured them of at least a play-off place prior to kick-off, with the suspended Kyle Walker and Frank Lampard replaced by Manchester United pair Chris Smalling and Michael Carrick.
The Football Association had been widely criticised for selling extra tickets to visiting Poland fans prior to kick-off but the greater away following made for a ferocious atmosphere at kick-off and a noise fitting of the grand occasion at a near-packed Wembley.
Bar that draw in 1973, the omens were good for England with 10 wins recorded against their Polish counterparts in 18 meetings and they set about settling early anxiety with Baines' cross towards Danny Welbeck almost forcing an own goal off Artur Jedrzejczyk.
The resulting corner however provided England with a reminder as to the threat the visitors possessed with Lewandowski running from inside his own half before forcing Joe Hart into a low save.
Welbeck almost headed England ahead after Szczesny parried Andros Townsend's drive before Waldemar Sobota had hearts in mouths when well placed but only found the side netting.
And direct from another England corner the visitors should have hit the front as Adrian Mierzejewski found Lewandowski, but the Borussia Dortmund striker shot wide.
Townsend then lashed against the crossbar and Szczesny denied Sturridge from point-blank range as the England chances began to come and go. Poland continued to be a threat at the other end though, as Carrick somehow denied Lewandowki a goal with some heroic back-post defending.
Home fans could have been forgiven for fearing a repeat of 1973 when England bombarded the Poland goal without success when Welbeck somehow avoided giving the hosts the lead after shooting wide from five yards.
The 20 year old then miss controlled Steven Gerrard's pass before being denied by Szczesny, who then denied Rooney from range as frustrations grew as half time approached.
But following Baines' perfect left-wing cross Rooney made no mistake to net his seventh goal in qualifying with a clinical header into the corner four minutes shy of the break.
Mateusz Klich replaced Mariusz Lewandowski at half-time as a sign of Poland's continued intent and they almost drew level as the PEC Zwolle man's goal bound shot was blocked by Gary Cahill.
The tension was palpable as Poland's pressure continued to mount but England have three chances to double their lead as Welbeck skewed wide, Sturridge's effort was diverted over his own cross bar by Jedrzejczyk and Szczesny turned away Cahill's header.
Grzegorz Krychowiak avoided scoring an own goal as he cut out Rooney's cross towards Sturridge but the underling threat from Poland was evident again as Hart stopped Lewandowski.
The visitors' hope was being kept alive by an inspired showing from Szczesny who palmed away Rooney's strike and turned over the bar from Sturridge.
But as the introduction of Frank Lampard and Jack Wilshere firmed up England's midfield Poland couldn't force a way through and Hodgson's men booked their place in Brazil in style as Gerrard powered through a tiring away defence on 88 minutes to poke home, to pale Ukraine's win over San Marino into insignificance and secure qualfication for a 14th World Cup finals; the perfect way to celebrate The FA's 150th anniversary.
To contact the editor, e-mail:
Most Popular Slideshows
- Top Ten Richest Americans [PHOTOS]
- Is Orlando Bloom’s Wife, Miranda Kerr Singing Love Songs for James Packer? [WATCH VIDEOS]
- 'Jelena' Romance: Selena Gomez Shares her Most Shocking Date with Justin Bieber Involving $3M- Diamond [PHOTOS/VIDEO]
- Watch Out, Robert Pattinson! Kellan Lutz Reveals He Turned Down The Role Of ‘Twilight’ Lead Edward Cullen [PHOTOS/ VIDEOS]