Gabriel Agbonlahor's early goal was enough to win the match for the visitors and leave Gus Poyet's side now three points from safety at the foot of the Premier League.
Sunderland had dominated the opening stages, creating several half-chances only to see their positive start undone after 15 minutes by a calamitous error from Lee Cattermole.
The Black Cats skipper dropped deep to collect a pass but miscontrolled, allowing Agbonlahor to nip in, skip by Vito Mannone and stroke the ball into the empty net with his left foot.
Steven Fletcher and Ji Dong-Won had already spurned decent opportunities by that point and Jack Colback saw a shot blocked minutes after the opener to deny Sunderland an instant reply.
Although the home side dominated possession, Villa defended well with Ron Vlaar to the fore and were content to play on the break with Agbonlahor and the returning Christian Benteke often a counter-attacking threat.
The pattern continued after the interval as Sunderland pushed for the equaliser with Cattermole making way for Fabio Borini at half time.
Emanuele Giaccherini even had the ball in the net midway through the second half thanks to a left-footed effort only to fall victim to a marginal offside call.
But Villa remained a threat as Sunderland committed men forwards. Phil Bardsley headed off the line with a quarter of an hour remaining after Benteke had outfoxed Valentin Roberge down the left channel.
Poyet threw on Jozy Altidore in a desperate attempt to claw something from the contest but the best chances continued to come at the other end.
Mannone saved well from Marc Albrighton inside the final 10 minutes but the Villa substitute really should have sealed the win late on only to blaze the ball over when clean through.
Albrighton was on the pitch as part of the reshuffle required when Vlaar went off with a calf injury but Villa defended resiliently to the death.
And besides, while Poyet's team huffed and puffed there was little quality to their play. They remain rooted to the bottom of the Premier League - easing the drop fears for Paul Lambert's side in the process.