Spurs miss out on Champions League
Spurs needed to win to stand any chance of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League but it looked like they would be frustrated until Bale rounded off a wonderful individual campaign with another special strike in the 90th minute.
However, Arsenal's victory at Newcastle United ensured that Tottenham would have to settle for a fifth-place finish despite a record points haul in the Premier League.
The margin of Spurs' victory could have been more convincing had they been granted any of several penalty appeals, while Sunderland also defended doggedly and Simon Mignolet pulled off a series of fine saves.
The onus was on Tottenham to take the attack to a Sunderland side whose Premier League survival had been guaranteed by Wigan Athletic's loss to Arsenal, and the first half was dominated by the hosts at White Hart Lane without reward.
It looked like the breakthrough would come in the 21st minute when Gareth Bale was sent tumbling in the area by a push from Sebastian Larsson, but instead of giving a penalty referee Andre Marriner felt that the Welshman had dived and issued a yellow card which sparked a furious reaction from the player and the crowd.
Spurs had another appeal for a spot-kick waved away when Bale's shot from close range crashed into the arm of Jack Colback, while Mignolet made decent saves from Emmanuel Adebayor, Tom Huddlestone and a Bale free-kick.
Sunderland were disciplined in defence but only broke forward sporadically, with Hugo Lloris showing quick reflexes at his near post to repel a close-range flick from Connor Wickham.