Roy Hodgson's men gave an assured, attacking performance at Wembley to ensure their qualification for Brazil 2014, though were made to wait for the game-killing second goal
The Three Lions had a host of chance in the first half before Wayne Rooney eventually opened the scoring just before the break, heading the ball past the otherwise excellent Wojciech Szczesny.
Roy Hodgson's charges endured a nervy second period as they failed to kill off the match, until captain Steven Gerrard burst forward, dinked the ball over Szczesny and put the tie beyond doubt.
Chris Smalling was given the nod to replace the suspended Kyle Walker in the England starting line-up, while Michael Carrick was preferred to Frank Lampard in midfield.
|VIEW FROM WEMBLEY
|By Wayne Veysey
England have qualified for the 2014 World Cup. The 2-0 result sounds routine but the performance was anything but. In an electrifying atmosphere, England delivered an attacking tour de force that was as surprising as it was spellbinding.
Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard deservedly got the goals that their outstanding individual contributions deserved, but the entire team stood up to be counted when it was most needed. And, in one evening, Roy Hodgson has nearly entirely kyboshed his 40-year reputation as a cautious coach.
The game started at a frantic pace, with the in-form Andros Townsend, rampaging up the right flank once more, stinging the palms of Szczesny. Danny Welbeck latched onto the rebound, but could only send his header wide of the post.
Poland were dangerous on the counterattack and Sobota should have done better when he was afforded too much space but fired wide of the near post, then England were given another let off when Robert Lewandowski raced clear but fired wide with only Joe Hart to beat.
There was no let up in the action as the tricky Townsend rattled the crossbar with a thumping left-footed strike, before Welbeck somehow dragged a shot wide from point-blank range when it seemed easier to score.
The Manchester United striker was presented with another chance 11 minutes before half-time when Gerrard played him in with a cushioned pass, but the 22-year-old failed to get the ball out of his feet and Szczesny came out to avert the danger.
It seemed it would be only a matter of time before the breakthrough would come and the opening goal duly arrived five minutes before the break, when Leighton Baines picked out Rooney with a pinpoint delivery and the striker rose unmarked to head home from six yards out, his seventh goal in six Group H appearances.
Poland made a bright start to the second half and Gary Cahill did well to get in the way of a goal-bound shot from Mateusz Klich, on as half-time substitute.
Cahill came close to a second England goal five minutes after the break when the busy Szczesny palmed away his downward header from a Gerrard corner, then Grzegorz Krychowiak almost put the ball into his own net when stretching to cut out Rooney's dangerous cross.
Lewandowski went one-on-one with Hart once again on the hour-mark, but the England keeper raced out and narrowed the angle to thwart the Borussia Dortmund striker.
Rooney almost had a second after 66 minutes only for Szczesny to tip away the England striker's long-range strike that was bound for the far corner, while Sturridge was also denied by the Arsenal keeper once more.
But just as the tension in Wembley was becoming unbearable, captain Gerrard struck the decisive blow that guaranteed the three points England needed to top the group, driving into the penalty area before neatly finishing past Szczesny to seal the Three Lions' place in Brazil next summer.