United's win, their fourth without conceding a goal since their 6-1 home loss to City last month, was overshadowed by Ferguson's silver anniversary occasion and was far from glittering, with the winner coming from former United defender Wes Brown, who put through his own net just before half-time.
But City stayed clear at the top when they won a five-goal thriller at Loftus Road, where Yaya Toure headed home the winner 16 minutes from time.
With 11 matches played City have 31 points, followed by United on 26, unbeaten Newcastle United on 25 and Chelsea on 22.
It was an emotional day at Old Trafford but the game will not live as long in the memory as the other events on the day, with United's chief executive, David Gill, announcing the North Stand had been renamed the "Sir Alex Ferguson Stand" and that a statue of the 69-year-old Scot was being commissioned to mark his achievements for the club since he took over on November 6 1986.
Ferguson has brought 37 trophies to Old Trafford and, although they are not leading the title race now, they still remain deep in the hunt for a 13th championship since 1993.
Ferguson admitted to Sky Sports afterwards: "I thought we were anxious but in the second half we improved, although the last 15 minutes was torture.
"I don't know whether it was down to the way Sunderland played, or the occasion; these emotional occasions, which it was for me today, sometimes get through to them."
City made it 10 wins from 11 matches at QPR, where the home side went ahead with a Jay Bothroyd header after 28 minutes. Edin Dzeko equalised with a well-taken individual goal 15 minutes later, before David Silva gave City the lead with another excellent solo strike early in the second half.
Heidar Helguson equalised for the home side after 69 minutes, but poor defending by the West London side allowed Toure to power in the winning header five minutes later.
Newcastle maintained their unbeaten league start to the season with a 2-1 win over Everton, with an own goal by Johnny Heitinga and a superbly struck dipping shot from Ryan Taylor putting them in control before Jack Rodwell pulled one back with a header just before half-time.
Chelsea, who won 1-0 at lowly Blackburn Rovers with a Frank Lampard header, remained fourth place on 22 points.
Despite losing, Blackburn, who have now lost five of their six home league games, played quite well but could find no way past Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, who ended the match with a broken nose after colliding with Rovers' Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Ashley Cole, which caused a seven-minute holdup.
Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas, pleased his side won after two successive defeats, added: "Petr broke his nose. He's very injury-prone in football accidents, all sorts of things have happened to him but he hung on bravely tod
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