Harry Redknapp's men failed to test Sunderland goalkeeper Keiren Westwood in a dull first half, but they sprung to life on the hour and took the lead through substitute Pavlyuchenko's fierce drive.
Sunderland would have taken something from the game had it not been for Spurs goalkeeper Brad Friedel, who saved well from Sebastian Larsson and Kieran Richardson, while Luka Modric missed a gilt-edged chance to make it 2-0 at the other end, blazing over an open goal deep inside the second period.
The victory, which came a week after Spurs' 11-match unbeaten run ended at Stoke, means they are now two points ahead of Chelsea ahead of the London derby between the two sides on Thursday.
Sir Alex Ferguson began the day by claiming that Spurs were genuine title contenders, but Spurs looked anything but after a drab opening half.
Shorn of Gareth Bale, missing through injury, Spurs lacked a cutting edge and began sluggishly.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto fired a blistering shot from 16 yards that could have gone in had it not hit Rafael van der Vaart and deflected wide, but other than that, Spurs were poor in the opening half hour.
Sandro, keen to impress on a rare start, broke Sunderland's play up well, but scuffed a shot wide from Rafael van der Vaart's pass on a rare foray forward.
Without Bale's marauding and pace down the left, Spurs were struggling to penetrate the Black Cats defence, although the visitors rarely threatened.
Tottenham's attack was adjusted in the 26th minute when a hamstring injury to Aaron Lennon forced the winger off and Pavlyuchenko came on in his place.
Sunderland piled the pressure on and ended the first half the stronger side.
A clever backheel from Connor Wickham gave Kieran Richardson some space on the edge of the box but his low drive was saved well by Friedel.
Larsson then sent a wicked ball across the Spurs box, but Richardson somehow failed to convert from eight yards despite having an empty goal in front of him.
William Gallas' foul on Wickham gave Sunderland a free-kick in a dangerous area but Friedel pulled off a good diving save to deny Larsson's brilliant curling shot.
Pavlyuchenko wasted a glorious chance in the last minute of the half when he volleyed wide from Scott Parker's cross while unmarked in the box.
David Vaughan tested Friedel with a 25-yard drive as Sunderland continued to impress at the start of the second half, while Nicklas Bendtner, on loan from Spurs' bitter rivals Arsenal, was booed when he came on for Wickham.
Assou-Ekotto entered the book for hacking David Vaughan down deep inside the Spurs half before Richardson also saw yellow for kicking the ball away after a foul had been given against him.
Westwood scampered across his line desperately after Van der Vaart fired at goal but the deflected effort flew inches wide.
Sunderland were still proving to be more than a match for their hosts, however, and Richardson played in Jack Colback with a clever pass but William Gallas and Sandro muscled the youngster off the ball before he could get his shot away.
Angered by their team's poor performance, the home crowd urged their side on and they responded by taking the lead on the hour.
Van der Vaart held off his marker and laid on a delicate reverse pass for Pavlyuchenko, who paused before firing a powerful low shot past Westwood for his first league strike of the season.
Buoyed by hitting the opener, Pavlyuchenko confidently strode towards goal before Vaughan tripped him on the edge of the penalty area and the Sunderland midfielder went into the book.
Van der Vaart drilled the free-kick against the wall, but he soon made amends by playing Adebayor through with a wonderful pass.
Westwood parried the striker's effort and the ball fell straight to Modric but he blazed over an open goal from eight yards - a contender for miss of the season.
Kyle Walker hammered a long-range effort just wide as Spurs upped the pressure in search of a second goal to kill the game off.
Van der Vaart got in the way of Modric's goal-bound effort and Assou-Ekotto embarrassed John O'Shea with his trickery but could only cross into a vacant penalty area.
Bramble's clumsy trip on Pavlyuchenko gave Spurs a free-kick on the edge of the Sunderland box but Van der Vaart rifled another effort at the wall. Westwood showed good reflexes to deny Adebayor before Pavlyuchenko went agonisingly close to adding a second with a sweet drive that flew just wide.
Stephane Sessegnon played a clever one-two with Bendtner but the Dane miscued his volley horribly, much to the delight of the home fans.
A dangerous cross from Larsson in the dying minutes caused a few gasps among the home crowd as Sunderland looked for a late equaliser which never came.