Didier Drogba came off the bench to strike Chelsea's late winner and reduce Manchester United's lead at the Premiership summit to five points.
Chelsea goal hero Didier Drogba celebrates with Andriy Shevchenko
Jose Mourinho dropped Drogba and Andriy Shevchenko to the bench, but they combined for the latter to bundle in from six yards with 16 minutes left.
Antoine Sibierski gave Chelsea a scare by heading against the bar early on.
But Chelsea improved after the break, with Arjen Robben hitting a post after Drogba broke the deadlock.
It was a night of struggle for Chelsea, but they prevailed in trademark fashion to extend their unbeaten Premiership run at Stamford Bridge to 53 games.
Chelsea axed off-colour striker Shevchenko and rested Drogba, who had a knock and was on the bench.
The changes provided starting opportunities for Robben, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Salomon Kalou.
Kalou wasted two opportunities and Frank Lampard shot over as Chelsea dominated the early exchanges - but once injury-hit Newcastle settled to their task they were more than a match for Chelsea in the opening half.
Sibierski almost shocked Chelsea after 15 minutes when he rose highest to meet James Milner's corner, but headed against the bar.
And 10 minutes before half-time Giuseppe Rossi was narrowly off target with a left-foot snap shot.
But Newcastle's plans were disrupted again just before the interval when Charles N'Zogbia fell awkwardly and was stretchered off with a knee injury, to be replaced by Matty Pattison.
Chelsea's display had lacked vigour, and the champions made a double change during the interval.
Wright-Phillips had endured another frustrating evening and he was replaced by Drogba, with Claude Makelele replacing the injured Ricardo Carvalho.
Drogba almost made an instant impact when he stole in on the end of Robben's cross, but headed wide.
And Newcastle keeper Shay Given needed to be alert after 58 minutes to block an angled free-kick from Robben.
Chelsea were struggling to break Newcastle's stubborn resistance, resulting in Mourinho sending on Shevchenko for Geremi after 66 minutes.
Kalou had got himself into dangerous positions, but his finishing was wayward and he shot wildly over with his right foot after working an opening inside the area.
Chelsea finally broke the deadlock in somewhat fortuitous fashion after 74 minutes through Drogba.
Robben's cross found Shevchenko, whose attempted shot fell into the path of Drogba, who made no mistake from six yards out.
The strike left Newcastle deflated, and Given was forced to turn a header from John Terry over the top.
As Glenn Roeder's side wilted, Given was outstanding again to turn Robben's low shot on to an upright.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho:
"Didier Drogba's attitude was brilliant. He was injured and there was maybe the risk of a bigger injury if he played, but at a tough time we needed him and he came on and made his contribution with the goal.
"The team understood the message at half-time and the message was that we couldn't afford to lose points from this game.
"Sometimes you get points through quality and sometimes you get it with your heart, and we did it with our heart."
Newcastle manager Glenn Roeder:
"I was very proud of my players. I think we deserved a point.
"We were little unlucky with the goal because Andriy Shevchenko's ball for Didier Drogba's goal was not a pass.
"World class players don't normally scuff shots, but Shevchenko scuffed his shot and it turned out to be a very good scuff and Drogba is lethal from six yards.
"It was a real shame because we battled so hard and I cannot say enough good things about the attitude of my players here, especially with so many young players in the team."
Chelsea: Hilario, Geremi (Shevchenko 67), Carvalho (Makelele 46), Terry, Ashley Cole, Ballack, Essien, Lampard, Wright-Phillips (Drogba 46), Kalou, Robben.
Subs Not Used: Hedman, Bridge.
Booked: Essien, Makelele.
Goals: Drogba 74.
Newcastle: Given, Huntington, Ramage, Taylor, Babayaro, Rossi, Butt, N'Zogbia (Pattison 44), Milner, Sibierski (Luque 78), Martins.
Subs Not Used: Srnicek, O'Brien, Edgar.
Booked: Ramage, Babayaro.
Ref: P Dowd (Staffordshire).