England 36 Tonga 20 England set up a World Cup quarter-final clash with arch enemies Australia in Marseille next Saturday after toppling Tonga at Parc des Princes.
The Pool A eliminator went England's way thanks to a try double from Wasps wing Paul Sackey - his second successive tournament brace - before centre Mathew Tait claimed a 57th-minute clincher.
Tait's Newcastle colleague Jonny Wilkinson kicked 16 points, taking him to 955 for England, with the Webb Ellis Trophy holders wiping out a worrying early 10-3 deficit.
Substitute Andy Farrell, on as a second-half substitute for the unconvincing Olly Barkley, claimed his first touchdown in England colours, pressing a strong case for inclusion against the Wallabies.
England qualified as group runners-up behind South Africa, adding a bonus point, and traditional World Cup foes Australia now await them at Stade Velodrome.
The game will reignite one of the World Cup's great rivalries.
Australia beat England in the 1991 final at Twickenham, but their title defence was ended by Will Carling and company in 1995, then England memorably toppled the Wallabies in Sydney to be crowned 2003 world champions.
Current form suggests Australia will start as favourites, although the absence of their injured playmaker Stephen Larkham could level up the contest.
England's immediate concern was to overcome the best Tongan side in World Cup history, and they eventually managed it in reasonably convincing fashion.
Centre Sukanaivalu Hufanga's 17th-minute try, converted by fly-half Pierre Hola, raised the possibility of an upset.
No reigning rugby world champion had previously failed to make the tournament's knockout stages, and England ultimately avoided that fate with ease.
Sackey's scores - the first a direct result of Wilkinson's brilliant cross-kick, and the second a 70-metre breakaway effort - gave England breathing space.
And after a poor third quarter, England spent the remaining minutes running a shattered Tongan side off its feet.
Farrell's appearance gave England much-needed stability in midfield, and when he powered over 14 minutes from time it was rich reward for an outstanding contribution.
Wilkinson, despite a mixed night with the boot, slotted two penalties, two drop-goals and two conversions, putting him just five points behind all-time World Cup record points scorer Gavin Hastings.
Tonga, who had a World Cup to savour after beating Samoa and the USA before running South Africa close, at least enjoyed the final word when flanker Hale T Pole bagged a consolation try fly-half Hola converted.
England, unquestionably, will have to move up at least two gears to threaten Australia, yet they have reached the knockout rounds, winning back-to-back games after suffering a record 36-0 thumping against the Springboks two weeks ago.