The result was enough for the Red Bull driver to pip Ferrari's Fernando Alonso to the crown by three points, and in doing so join Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher as the only men to win three titles in succession.
But the German, who began the day with a 13-point lead over Alonso, did not have things all his own way, with the result in the balance until the final laps.
Here is a look at the key moments of the race.
Lap one: Vettel's race gets off to the worst possible start as he collides with Bruno Senna at turn three, spinning his car and dropping him to the back of the pack. Despite significant damage to the side of his car, Vettel continues.
Three: Vettel posts the fastest lap of the race as he begins his charge through the pack.
Five: Fernando Alonso runs wide into the first corner but rejoins in fourth place.
Eight: Mark Webber damages his chances of aiding team-mate Vettel's title bid as he spins and loses several places. Vettel, meanwhile, recovers to eighth place.
Nine: Vettel climbs to sixth, just two places behind Alonso and comfortably in charge of the title battle again.
11: Alonso pits for intermediate tyres.
12: Vettel, who now only needs to stay in touching distance of his title rival to triumph, follows suit.
18: Alonso changes to dry tyres, with Vettel following suit two laps later and resuming right behind the Ferrari.
23: Safety car is deployed due to debris on the track, closing the pack up.
30: Scare for Vettel as he heads into turn one alongside Kamui Kobayashi and Webber, who avoids wiping out his team-mate by sliding wide.
36: Vettel has a big slide in the Juncao corner but continues.
51: Problems for Vettel as team reveal they are unable to hear his radio communications.
53: Vettel is called into the pits for dry tyres, even though rain continues to fall.
55: Lewis Hamilton and Nico Hulkenberg collide while battling for the lead into turn one, promoting Alonso to the podium.
56: Vettel finds his dry tyres are not suitable and is forced to pit again for intermediates. With the German down in 12th place and Alonso in third, the title is suddenly in the hands of the Ferrari driver.
58: Alonso also stops for new tyres as Vettel claws his way up to eighth place and back in control of the title battle.
62: Alonso passes team-mate Felipe Massa for second but that is still not enough to deny Vettel the crown.
65: Vettel strengthens his hand by moving up to sixth place with a pass on Michael Schumacher.
70: Safety car is deployed after Paul Di Resta suffers a big shunt in the final turn. The deployment means the race will finish behind the safety car, leaving Alonso second behind winner Jenson Button, with Vettel's sixth place sufficient for the title.