A controversial first-half red card dominated proceedings as Gus Poyet's side was forced to play out the majority of the game with 10 men in the wake of Wes Brown's dismissal.
Charlie Adam was in the thick of the action in the first half, opening the scoring on the half-hour mark before being involved in the incident that saw Wes Brown sent off nine minutes before halftime. Brown was judged to have recklessly tackled the former Liverpool midfielder and was given his marching orders.
Steven N'Zonzi doubled Stoke's lead nine minutes from the end as Mark Hughes' men made the most of their numerical advantage to record their first Premier League win since the end of August. The result moves Stoke three points clear of the relegation zone and drops Sunderland to last place.
Hughes made one change to his Stoke starting lineup, with Glenn Whelan coming in for Wilson Palacios, while Sunderland manager Gus Poyet named an unchanged team after a 1-0 win over Manchester City prior to the international break.
It was Sunderland that was first to find its rhythm. Adam Johnson and Emanuele Giaccherini combined to set up Jack Colback, whose shot was blocked, before Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic brilliantly denied Steven Fletcher on a one-on-one opportunity.
Despite the clever passing of Adam and some neat touches from Peter Crouch, Stoke struggled to create a meaningful chance until breaking the deadlock on the half-hour mark.
N'Zonzi raced onto Geoff Cameron's long punt forward, held it up and stroked the ball back to the on-rushing Adam, who passed into the bottom corner from just inside the box for his third goal of the season.
Things got considerably worse for Sunderland in the 35th minute. Brown appeared to have made a fair sliding challenge, but referee Kevin Friend judged the 34-year-old defender had dangerously fouled Adam in the process and sent him off.
Stoke enjoyed much of the possession at the start of the second half. However, Jonathan Walters and Crouch failed to connect with an inviting Cameron cross, before Adam burst through the midfield but failed to keep his shot down.
Johnson found space on the edge of the opposition box in the 70th minute, but the winger, who scored a 25-yard strike for Manchester City against Stoke in the 2011-12 season, dragged his shot wide.
Begovic had to be alert to race from his line and, with an outstretched leg, clear the ball before Fletcher. The Bosnia-Herzegovina international caught the Scotland striker in the process, but Sunderland’s appeals for a penalty were waved away.
Sunderland was enjoying a good spell of pressure, but was hit on the counterattack with nine minutes remaining. Adam fed Couch, who slid the ball between two defenders for N'Zonzi to clip it home. The former France Under-21 international became Stoke's 10th scorer in the Premier League this season.