Roy Hodgson's side, preparing for its first match of Euro 2016 qualifying on Monday, played to a sparse crowd of just 40,181 after its disastrous World Cup campaign and was unable to make a breakthrough before halftime in an unimpressive performance.
The moment came when Omar Elabdellaoui felled Raheem Sterling in the penalty box 67 minutes into the game. Rooney stepped up to blast home his 41st international goal, taking him above Michael Owen in the country's all-time highest scorers list, with only Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker and Jimmy Greaves still ahead of him.
England's performance will do little to boost confidence ahead of its test against Switzerland on Monday, while Norway will hope to cause an upset when it hosts Italy on Tuesday.
Hodgson, who was facing the same opponents as when he made his bow as England boss in May 2012, handed a first international start to Everton defender John Stones - the only newcomer in a starting XI that featured 10 members of the squad which went to the World Cup.
And it was the hosts who applied the early pressure at Wembley, with Leighton Baines curling over from a fifth-minute free kick before Sterling and Sturridge almost unlocked the visiting defense.
Sturridge slipped the ball to the teenager in the penalty area but saw his eventual effort blocked after getting on the end of a backheeled return pass from his Reds teammate.
Phil Jones guided a header just wide of the right-hand post from a corner in the 17th minute as England continued to look the most likely to break the deadlock, before Mohamed Elyounoussi drew a rare save from Joe Hart with a speculative effort from 20 yards.
Sterling and Sturridge linked up well once again in a move that eventually saw the latter put the ball on the roof of the net but an opening goal continued to prove elusive.
Joshua King forced Hart into a one-handed diving save from a corner five minutes into the second half – the best chance of the match at either end to that point.
Norway's early second-half momentum was halted somewhat when Cardiff City midfielder Mats Daehli required lengthy treatment after a coming together with Sterling, subsequently making way for Anders Konradsen.
England finally broke the deadlock 22 minutes from time when Rooney buried his penalty to the right of goalkeeper Orjan Nyland.
With the European Championship expanded to 24 teams for 2016, England's involvement is unlikely to be in doubt but its performance on Wednesday will do little to restore confidence following a World Cup nightmare.