Gareth Barry and Liam Ridgewell were on target as Aston Villa wrapped up the season with a victory - and Sunderland bade farewell to the Premiership.
Barry (left) celebrates his opening goal with Steven Davis
Barry started and finished a four-man move just before the interval by drilling his shot past Kelvin Davis.
After Barry's second-half penalty was well saved by Davis, Ridgewell made it 2-0 with a header from a corner.
Danny Collins, who earlier had a header cleared off the line by Barry, headed in a consolation in the dying minutes.
With both sides looking to end a disappointing season with a win, Villa boss David O'Leary rested Milan Baros and Olof Mellberg ahead of this summer's World Cup finals.
But Sunderland's Davis was the busier keeper in the early stages, holding a low strike by James Milner and punching clear when Ridgewell was left unmarked six yards out.
Villa keeper Thomas Sorensen was not seriously tested by his old team in the first half, with Justin Hoyte off-target from distance, while Dean Whitehead wasted a free-kick in a good position by blazing high and wide.
Another ex-Sunderland man, Kevin Phillips, had been recalled to the starting line-up but headed wide from a Milner centre.
Milner, in possibly his last appearance for Villa, was a constant threat on their right but Sunderland skipper Gary Breen was on hand to nod a dangerous cross behind, although Juan Pablo Angel hooked his shot wide from the resulting corner.
Davis then parried a fierce drive from the Colombian before Breen did well to block Milner's rebound effort.
Villa's unhappy fans displayed several banners at the game
Both sides were lacking a killer instinct and Sunderland's problems increased after losing defenders George McCartney and Stephen Caldwell to injury in the first half-hour.
But Villa eventually went ahead when Barry began a neat passing sequence - with Angel and Milner involved before Steven Davis teed up the Villa skipper to carefully place his shot past keeper Davis into the bottom left corner.
Buoyed by the goal, Villa nearly grabbed a second before the interval when Milner's cross deflected off Collins and struck the foot of the post before it rebounded off the keeper and hit the post again before Sunderland could clear the danger.
Despite having Collins' effort from a rare corner hacked off the line by skipper Barry just after the break, the Black Cats were soon on the rack again as the impressive Milner - on loan from Newcastle and booed by the away fans - shot over.
Another good move led to Barry and Milner teeing up Steven Davis, who rattled Sorensen's left-hand post with a fierce drive but Gavin McCann fired the rebound wide.
Villa finally had the chance to make the game safe when lively substitute Gabriel Agbonlahor, on for Phillips, was scythed down by Breen.
Barry's firmly-struck spot-kick was well saved by Davis low to his left but Villa's pressure finally told from the resulting corner.
Ridgewell's initial header brought another good save by Davis but the England Under-21 man made no mistake with another header when the ball fell to him seconds later.
Sorensen was able to take a back seat for much of the game but was briefly called into action when Nyron Nosworthy's mis-hit shot fell kindly to Daryl Murphy, whose shot was well held by the Villa keeper.
The Dane had no chance when Collins' firm header from Dean Whitehead's corner gave the Black Cats a late consolation goal.
However, it was too little, too late for Sunderland - and their season.
Aston Villa manager David O'Leary:
"We should have won by more goals - with the movement and passing, we should have been well ahead and the first goal summed that up.
"I thought it would be a good game to end the season with, as you would have two teams having a go at each other.
"But we haven't taken enough points here, although we've done well on the road. We didn't put our chances away."
Sunderland caretaker boss Kevin Ball:
"It would have been nice to end with a win, but it's been a great learning experience for me," he said.
"I've always aspired to be a manager, and I've always aspired to be manager of Sunderland. Whether that happens in the short term, I'm not sure.
"It was a great atmosphere as the fans travelled here in their thousands."
Aston Villa: Sorensen, Hughes, Cahill, Ridgewell, Bouma, Milner (Hendrie 82), Davis, McCann, Barry, Angel, Phillips (Agbonlahor 66).
Subs Not Used: Taylor, De la Cruz, Moore.
Booked: McCann, Cahill, Ridgewell, McCann.
Goals: Barry 43, Ridgewell 78.
Sunderland: Davis, Nosworthy, Breen, Caldwell (Daryl Murphy 27), McCartney (Danny Collins 12), Hoyte, Whitehead, Miller (Leadbitter 74), Welsh, Brown, Le Tallec.
Subs Not Used: Alnwick, Kyle.
Booked: Whitehead, Breen.
Goals: Danny Collins 88.
Ref: M Dean (Wirral).