Gus Poyet was sent to the stands as the Black Cats recovered from Dame N'Doye's early strike to head back to Wearside with a point
Dame N'Doye struck his third goal in as many games at the KC Stadium as he turned home Tom Huddlestone's free-kick.
Black Cats manager Gus Poyet was sent to the stands shortly before the break, though home boss Stev Bruce had to be restrained as the former Chelsea midfielder left the touchline.
And though they struggled to create many chances, the visitors equalised late on as Rodwell headed in Patrick van Aanholt's cross from close range.
The headlines are sure to focus on Bruce and Poyet's confrontation, though, after the Sunderland boss was sent off for kicking a container filled with water bottles following Mike Dean's decision to book Rodwell.
Bruce was then prevented from running at Poyet and there was an angry exchange of words as the latter made his way down the tunnel.
Sunderland, now without a win in five Premier League matches, were without winger Adam Johnson after he was suspended by the club following his arrest on Monday.
Wes Brown started again for the visitors after the red card he was wrongly given in Saturday's 2-0 loss at Manchester United was rescinded, but he had a part to play in Hull's 15th-minute opener.
After a lengthy delay following Brown's foul on Ahmed Elmohamady, Huddlestone drove in a low free-kick that N'Doye smartly flicked beyond Costel Pantilimon and in.
Rodwell, one of four Sunderland inclusions, was booked in the 36th minute after trying to win a penalty for the visitors.
And that led to the game's flashpoint, as an enraged Poyet booted a drinks container and was subsequently sent to the stands by referee Dean.
Poyet disputed the decision and then wandered over to Bruce, appearing to look for a handshake, before the Hull manager reacted angrily and tried to run at the Sunderland boss.
An official held Bruce back in dramatic scenes, but once play finally resumed, Hull looked unfortunate not to win a penalty after John O'Shea manhandled Nikica Jelavic - returning from a knee problem - in the area.
O'Shea's header nearly crept in for a Sunderland equaliser just before the hour mark, while at the other end, N'Doye blasted a first-time effort well over following a promising Hull counter-attack.
Tensions rose once more when a cynical Lee Cattermole kick on David Meyler resulted in the latter squaring up to the Sunderland man.
Cattermole, who will be banned for the next two matches as a result of his latest booking, was quickly replaced by Ricky Alvarez as Sunderland bolstered their attacking options.
Yet it was Hull who seemed closer to a goal as N'Doye nodded over and left-back Andrew Robertson shot just wide from 20 yards.
Jake Livermore then spurned a good chance, shooting at Pantilimon following a clever Elmohamady cut-back, and Sunderland made the Tigers pay with their 77th-minute equaliser.
Anthony Reveillere fed Van Aanholt down the left and his cross floated over Hull goalkeeper Allan McGregor before Rodwell applied the finishing touches.
Hull almost restored their lead immediately, but N'Doye was denied by Pantilimon as Sunderland claimed a valuable draw on the road.