The striker struck to give Harry Redknapp's side victory at Wembley, with the R's set to return to the top-flight and rub shoulders with the best England has to offer
The striker, on as a second-half substitute, planted a first-time finish beyond Lee Grant following a mistake from Derby captain Richard Keogh with virtually the last kick of the game, sparking wild celebrations on the QPR bench.
|VIEW FROM WEMBLEY
|By Liam Twomey
Astonishing. QPR are a Premier League club once again, becoming only the third team to bounce straight back to the top flight via the heart-stopping rollercoaster of the play-offs. It is a triumph which could not have seemed less likely from the moment Gary O'Neil was rightly shown a straight red card for bringing down Johnny Russell, but then QPR these days appear to be a club which makes a habit of achieving in spite of itself.
There was so much riding on this for the club with a bigger wage bill than Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. Would Harry Redknapp have survived a defeat? Would Tony Fernandes, despite his public protestations to the contrary, have wavered in his desire to keep bankrolling a club which routinely haemorrhages money? How dire would the consequences have been for a vast and extremely well remunerated squad? Thankfully for everyone of a QPR persuasion, none are questions which now need answering.
Words can barely describe Derby's devastation. They dominated the second half of this final but could not find a way through QPR's resolute defence, and in their desperation for a winner they walked onto the biggest sucker punch possible. But Steve McClaren is a talented coach who has built an exciting young team, and his and their time may yet come again.
The Premier League brings fresh challenges for QPR. They cannot afford the farcical transfer policy which so undermined them last time. But the bouncing, cheering masses of blue and white at Wembley were in no mood to ponder future problems as they revelled in the most miraculous of victories.
Zamora's strike came hugely against the run of play, QPR having hung on for the final half an hour with 10 men after the dismissal of Gary O'Neil for denying a goalscoring opportunity.
The midfielder hauled down Johnny Russell on the edge of the box as the Scot bore down on goal, referee Lee Mason brandishing the red card after consulting his assistant.
It was the second time that Zamora has struck the winner in a Championship play-off final, having netted the crucial goal in West Ham's 1-0 win over Preston in North End in 2005.
For Steve McClaren, it was another nightmare appearance at Wembley following his rain-soaked defeat to Croatia as England coach in a vital Euro 2008 qualifier.
His opposite number Harry Redknapp, meanwhile, enjoyed yet another Wembley success, having presided over Portsmouth's 2008 FA Cup final win over Cardiff City.
Neither side made any changes from their respective semi-final second-leg victories, with QPR's hero from the win over Wigan Athletic Charlie Austin firing the first meaningful effort on goal in the eighth minute, but his rasping drive from 25 yards was always rising over the crossbar.
Craig Forsyth wasted Derby's first half-chance with 25 minutes gone, heading over from a tight angle after getting on the end of Jamie Ward's left-wing cross.
County felt they should have had a penalty two minutes later when Will Hughes cut inside Richard Dunne and fell to the floor, but Mason waved away the appeals with replays showing minimal contact.
Derby were in the ascendancy, Hughes firing over from the edge of the box in the 31st minute, while Rob Green had to get down low to his left to keep out Ward's dangerous curling free-kick 10 minutes later.
McClaren's men dominated the opening stages of the second period, forcing several corners, but it was QPR and Austin who wasted the clearest opportunity in the 57th minute.
Armand Traore, on as a first-half substitute for Niko Kranjcar, cut the ball back from the byline to the striker, who sidefooted the ball narrowly wide of the right-hand upright from 12 yards.
Three minutes later, QPR were reduced to 10 men when Mason showed O'Neil the red card following a cynical challenge on Russell.
Craig Bryson was introduced for Derby midway through the half and immediately brought a save out of Green, while the former England goalkeeper reacted brilliantly at his near post to deny Chris Martin from close range soon afterwards.
Green was in action again on 75 minutes, parrying Simon Dawkins' effort from 10 yards, with Ward seeing his rebound ricochet off the legs of Martin and behind for a goal-kick.
With the game seemingly destined for extra-time, Zamora capitalised on Keogh's error to spark scenes of jubilation, with Derby players collapsing to the turf at the final whistle.