The England World Cup hopeful took his tally in all competitions to 24 with a close-range finish four minutes before the break courtesy of Fraizer Campbell’s knockdown.
Campbell had opened the scoring 16 minutes earlier as the Black Cats put the result beyond reasonable doubt before the break.
Brian Laws’ men now have just three games remaining in which to drag themselves out of the relegation zone after last weekend’s win at Hull had given them hope.
By contrast, Steve Bruce can start planning for another top-flight campaign and the task of taking his club to the next level, a prospect which will excite the red and white section of a crowd of 41,341.
The home side were never in any real danger of surrendering a lead they had established with little difficulty, although substitute Steve Thompson’s strike eight minutes from time gave them food for thought.
Bruce and Laws spent their formative years in football together at Wallsend Boys’ Club and then at Burnley, where the Sunderland boss was rejected but Laws launched his playing career.
However, the former Manchester United defender had warned his Burnley counterpart there would be no old pals act at the Stadium of Light, and the message had apparently got through to his players.
Only Chelsea and Aston Villa have won a league game on Wearside this season and the Clarets’ hopes of joining them were effectively over within 41 minutes.
The Black Cats powered their way in front after 25 minutes when Campbell got across his marker to steer Alan Hutton’s driven cross past goalkeeper Brian Jensen at the near post.
Campbell then unselfishly turned provider four minutes before the break when he got the benefit of a tight offside decision – replays suggested the visitors were unfortunate not to see the flag go up – to head David Meyler’s cross back across goal and hand Bent the simplest of chances.
It was little more than Sunderland deserved from a powerful first-half display which at times left Burnley chasing shadows, despite injuries forcing Bruce to pair youngsters Jordan Henderson and Meyler together in an inexperienced central midfield partnership.
They might have gone ahead as early as the third minute when Bent’s cross very nearly crept under the crossbar after clipping defender Leon Cort, and Jensen, who managed to claw the ball away on that occasion, was kept busy throughout.
He pulled off a fine 19th-minute save to keep out John Mensah’s downward header and the defender might have added his name to the scoresheet nine minutes before the break but could not get a meaningful touch to Steed Malbranque’s free-kick.
Kenwyne Jones also hit the post with 23 minutes gone and Bent powered a 34th-minute header wide when he might have done better, but a two-goal lead was just reward for a dominant opening 45 minutes.
The luckless Mensah, whose season has been wrecked by injury, failed to reappear after the break and was replaced by Anton Ferdinand, while Laws also made a change when he sent on Thompson for Martin Paterson.
Steven Fletcher sent a speculative effort wide within seconds of the restart and Thompson crossed for Chris Eagles to loop a header over two minutes later as the visitors rallied.
But Sunderland were soon back in control and Jensen had to get down well to keep out Kieran Richardson’s scuffed 53rd-minute shot and then sprint from his line to only just beat Campbell to Malbranque’s throughball seconds later.
Jensen was back in action a minute later as Jones skipped past Michael Duff and fired in a low drive, and although the visitors responded gamely with Hutton having to hack away a dangerous Tyrone Mears cross, the home side remained very much in the ascendancy.
However, Thompson ensured a tense finish when he collected fellow substitute Robbie Blake’s 82nd-minute pass and fired past Craig Gordon, although the fightback came too late.