With the drivers' world title settled -- Lewis Hamilton clinched his fourth
at last month's Mexican Grand Prix -- Vettel had little to fight for but pride and so he delivered, cruising to a first win in eight races and putting a halt to a desperately disappointing run of results.
Vettel's victory at Interlagos -- his fifth of the season and the 47th of his career -- came courtesy of a fast start when he nipped in front of pole sitter Valtteri Bottas at the first corner before snaking away through the Senna Esses.
"I had a very good getaway," Vettel said.
"I had a chance to squeeze down the inside at the start and tried to control the race from there. I'm pleased for the guys back home in Maranello who have been working so hard.
"It's been a tough couple of weeks, but it's good to have two Ferrari drivers (on the podium)."
Bottas, who came home second, was flying the flag for Mercedes at the front of the grid after Lewis Hamilton started from the pit lane following an uncharacteristic crash during Saturday's qualifying session.
The Finn never lost sight of the Ferrari but he was unable to close the gap, both on the track and in the battle for second in the drivers' championship.
Bottas now has an outside chance of beating Vettel in the drivers' championship -- the German has a 22-point lead with only the race in Abu Dhabi to come.
Kimi Raikkonen claimed his seventh podium finish of the season, holding off Hamilton who had charged through the field.
"It felt a bit reminiscent of my karting days -- starting at the back," Hamilton told reporters.
"I messed up yesterday. I was quick enough to win from pole to flag. Waking up this morning I was just trying to redeem myself and make the team proud. I was trying to make third but I ran out of tires at the end."
After last year's heroics in the rain, Max Verstappen just couldn't keep up with Ferrari and Mercedes and had to settle for fifth, one place ahead of his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo.
The biggest cheer of the day was reserved for Felipe Massa who steered his Williams car to seventh place in what was his final home race.
Massa had said a tearful farewell to the Sao Paulo crowd after crashing out last year before later shelving his retirement plans following Bottas' move to Mercedes to replace retiring world champion Nico Rosberg.
"It was such a big pleasure to finish the race with my head up," Massa said.
"It was a race I will never forget. It will be in my heart. I will miss you guys. We've been together for 16 years, so thank you!"