With the £50million man sitting on the bench, Sturridge produced an outrageous back-heeled finish to wrap up a comfortable Premier League victory at the Stadium of Light.
Skipper John Terry had opened the scoring with an 18th-minute shot after Juan Mata's free-kick had hit the woodwork, but it was left to the former Manchester City man to complete the job in style six minutes after the break with substitute Ji Dong-won's injury-time strike counting for little.
The win extended the Blues' uneaten start to the season and left Sunderland still looking for their first victory and having scored only two goals in five games.
That statistic will not have been lost on the club's fans as news of Asamoah Gyan's loan move to United Arab Emirates club Al-Ain emerged shortly before kick-off, although they will have been buoyed by Nicklas Bendtner's performance on his debut in front of a crowd of 36,699.
All the talk in the hours immediately prior to the game was about strikers and in particular, two who were not involved this afternoon.
Gyan's departure will no doubt have been a topic of conversation between Steve Bruce, Niall Quinn and Ellis Short as manager, chairman and owner met on the pitch before kick-off, and when the team-sheet arrived, Torres, who had scored just once in his previous 21 appearances for Chelsea, was named only among the substitutes.
The upshot was that Bendtner made his first appearance for the Black Cats playing as a lone striker and not alongside the Ghana international, while Juan Mata, Nicolas Anelka and Sturridge lined up in attack for the visitors, for whom Raul Meireles made his debut.
Sunderland might have got off to the perfect start with just 12 minutes gone when Bendtner got his header to a Sebastian Larsson free-kick, but glanced the ball agonisingly wide with keeper Petr Cech rooted to the spot.
However, that proved a rare excursion into enemy territory until a late flurry as Chelsea dominated possession and created a series of chances.
Mata was a livewire as he and full-back Ashley Cole exploited space down the left with Meireles and Frank Lampard prompting from the middle.
The opening goal arrived with 18 minutes gone, although it did so in slightly controversial circumstances with Lee Cattermole unhappy with Anelka's reaction to his challenge 20 yards out.
Mata curled the free-kick over the wall and saw it come back off the post with keeper Simon Mignolet beaten.
But the Black Cats failed to make the most of their escape and when the ball was eventually recycled to Terry beyond the far post, he fired in a shot which was blocked, but Phil Bardsley could only help his follow-up into the roof of the net.
Anelka and Ramires both went close as the Londoners eased into top gear, and it took good blocks from Mignolet and Wes Brown to deny the Frenchman.
Bardsley was fortunate to escape without punishment after he appeared to stamp on Mata as the clock ran down and may yet have to face the repercussions, although his side finished the half in positive fashion.
Stephane Sessegnon forced Cech to beat away a well-struck shot at his near post and Larsson mistimed a header from Kieran Richardson's injury-time cross to at least suggest the contest was not over.
Craig Gardner headed tamely at Cech from another Richardson cross as Sunderland resumed in determined fashion, but the game was effectively over within six minutes as Chelsea hit back.
Anelka had already fired wide after running away from Titus Bramble and Cattermole was relieved to see a volleyed clearance from Cole's cross fly over his own crossbar when the visitors doubled their lead.
Meireles' ball over the top allowed Sturridge to run away from Brown and as Mignolet came to meet him, he audaciously back-heeled his shot past him and into the bottom corner with the former Manchester United defender's efforts to keep it out coming to nothing.
Sunderland might have reduced the deficit with 25 minutes to play when Branislav Ivanovic made a mess of clearing Jack Colback's left-wing cross and the ball fell to Bendtner, but Terry was on hand to block his shot at source.
Anelka forced a 73rd-minute save from Mignolet as the visitors eased into cruise control, and although Ji side-footed home at the death to give the home side some reward for their efforts, the points were safe.