Rooney rose to guide home Leighton Baines' cross four minutes from half-time on a raucous evening, which a Polish contingent in excess of 20,000 at times made it feel like an away day.
It was the Manchester United man's 38th England goal, and his ninth in 10 games, confirming his status as his team's talisman heading into yet another major tournament.
However, after spurning a succession of chances, both before and after Rooney's goal, to evoke memories of that awful night in 1973 when 'the clown' Jan Tomaszewski denied them, it took a captain's intervention from Gerrard two minutes from time to ensure England will take their place on the greatest stage next summer.
Manager Roy Hodgson, who lived every minute in glorious agony, leapt to the air in jubilation, becoming only the sixth Englishman to take his country into a World Cup finals.
Hodgson joins an illustrious list, including Bobby Robson, and can now look ahead to December's draw knowing the minimum task for his tenure has been achieved