Two goals in three second-half minutes by Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben helped to see off a resolute Uruguay side and put the Netherlands into a World Cup final for the first time since 1978.
The Dutch looked short of ideas for long periods but still had the quality in front of goal when it mattered to set up an all-European final against Euro 2008 champions Spain or Germany in Johannesburg on Sunday.
After Giovanni van Bronckhorst's spectacular opener, Uruguay were gifted an equaliser when goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg failed to deal with Diego Forlan's long-range shot.
But Sneijder and Robben again made the difference for the two-time runners-up, who were left hanging on at the end following Maxi Pereira's injury-time reply. However, the Dutch held firm to make sure of their progress.
It was a dramatic end to an often tepid match as Uruguay, who were without the suspended Luis Suarez following his goal-line handball that helped them past Ghana in the quarter-finals, only showed real attacking intent when they fell two goals behind.
Cheered on by an army of Oranje fans, Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk saw his side struggle to find their feet in the early stages, with their only sight of goal being wasted when Dirk Kuyt fired wastefully over after keeper Fernando Muslera had punched Sneijder's cross straight at him.
The South Americans, in their first semi-final for 30 years, were defending in depth and in numbers but that tactic did not help them when Van Bronkhorst broke the deadlock after 18 minutes
The ball was fed out to the left-flank and the veteran Feyenoord left-back had time to look up and use his trusty left foot to spank an unstoppable 35-yard shot into the top corner.
But going ahead did not help the Dutch work out how to break down a well-organised Uruguay defence, and they also seemed unwilling to commit players forward in search of more goals.
Martin Caceres had to hold off Robben as he ran on to Robin van Persie's through-ball, but that was the nearest the Netherlands came to extending their lead.
Uruguay, in the absence of the prolific Suarez, were faring little better at the other end and Stekelenburg did not have a save to make until he had to deal with Alvaro Pereira's bouncing shot after 36 minutes.
That all changed before half-time, however, and it was the Dutch goalkeeper at fault as Forlan notched his fourth goal in six games in the finals in South Africa.
Stekelenburg had a clear view of Forlan's swerving strike from 25 yards out and got a hand to the ball, but was still unable to keep it out.
The Ajax keeper had another nervous moment at the start of the second half when he beat Edinson Cavani to a through ball but failed to make a proper clearance and Van Bronkhorst had to clear Alvaro Pereira's curling shot off the line.
But the game quickly got bogged down in midfield and there were few chances to speak of until Forlan brought a much better stop from Stekelenburg with a dipping free-kick.
The Netherlands had been disappointing up to that point but showed again how they do not have to play well to win games in the tournament with a two-goal burst in the space of three minutes that was enough to give them victory.
Van Marwijk's side showed signs of life when Van Persie latched on to a long ball over the top and played in substitute Rafael van der Vaart, who saw his low shot pushed away before Robben fired the rebound over.
And they were back in the lead after 70 minutes when Sneijder's shot hit the luckless Maxi Pereira and span in off a post, with Van Persie trying but failing to get a touch to help it on its way.
In their next attack, Robben made it 3-1, escaping the attentions of Diego Godin to meet Dirk Kuyt's cross and plant a firm header into the bottom corner.
Uruguay looked exhausted and Robben could have added a fourth when he burst forward on to a Van Persie flick late on, but got his attempted chip all wrong.
Instead the Dutch faced a frantic finale when, in the 92nd minute, Maxi Pereira ran on to a quickly taken free-kick, turned Eljero Ejia and curled a precise shot into the bottom corner of the net.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez's team had time to launch a few balls into the Dutch box but van Marwijk's side survived and it is they who will go forward hoping it will be third-time lucky for them in a final following their defeats in 1974 and 1978.
Attempts on target
Attempts off target
Projected table based on current scores
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|Group G teams||P||W||D||L||F||A||GD||PTS|