Winning a crucial toss in bowler-friendly conditions, Alastair Cook put Australia into bat, and the tourists were under pressure from the beginning, crawling to a total of 200 for nine from their 50 overs. Man of the match Steven Finn was the star, ending with figures of four for 37 from an impressive 10 overs.
That still gave the men in yellow a chance of defending their total, but sensible strokeplay from the four batsman England required, with half-centuries for Ian Bell (69) and Jonathan Trott (64 not out) putting the game beyond doubt.
Australia had the worse of the conditions, and were not helped by injuries to Brett Lee and Shane Watson which curtailed their bowling options.
But for all that, England triumphed as they have throughout the series - with something to spare. For good measure, England's ninth successive one-day international win constituted a new record streak.
The home side can complete a 4-0 victory in the best-of-five series with victory at Old Trafford in the final match on Tuesday.
"They have continued to show us how to perform consistently in this form of the game," Australian skipper Michael Clarke admitted afterwards - a compliment given his side went into the tour as the world's number one side.
England were not unhappy to curtail Australia to 200 runs from their 50 overs, but it could have been worse still for the tourists had catches been held and a little more luck gone the men in blue’s way
Finn ended a cautious vigil from opening batsman Dave Warner with a full ball, then made it two in two by beating Peter Forrest with an inswinger.
Australia limped to 15 for two from 10 overs – their worst start in one-day international history – before Clarke and Watson led the recovery.
Clarke was the more fluent of the two in conditions where the ball did plenty, but he was dropped at point with just eight runs to his name, Eoin Morgan missing a simple chance.
The pair put on 51 before Watson, who had finally looked as if he was settling, chopped on to his stumps trying to steer a ball from Tim Bresnan down to third man.
Ravi Bopara, whose medium pace bowling was boosted by the pitch, then removed George Bailey with a jaffer which straightened and took the top of the off stump.
Clarke and Hussey combined, but the skipper looked progressively less comfortable in the conditions, his innings grinding to a halt and his charmed life continuing.
England used their review appealing a Hussey leg-before shout from Bopara just two balls into his innings. The batsman survived – but only by an umpire’s call on the line of the ball.
The next over, Clarke was not given out against Stuart Broad, but had England had an appeal that verdict would have been overturned.
Clarke was also edged and was dropped by Anderson in the slips, but was put out of his misery by a superb ball from the returning Finn.
Again he made it two from two, serving up Matthew Wade a snorter which he inside-edged behind for Craig Kieswetter to take an equally impressive catch.
Brett Lee formed an alliance with David Hussey, adding another 70 runs at a decent rate before Lee holed out against Anderson to long on.
McKay fell in similar fashion, as did Hussey, though not before he had compiled a stand-out innings of 70 from 73 balls which belied the difficulty of the Durham track.
A swift start from Australia's bowlers could have made the contest interesting, but England blunted the visiting attack with some accomplished and solid batting.
Bell and Cook added 70 for the opening stand as Clarke shuffled his bowlers regularly, looking for a breakthrough.
The first wicket came courtesy of McKay, who had substitute Steve Smith to thank for a smart catch in the covers from a low drive from Cook with the batsman well set on 29.
Trott settled into a familiar rhythm as Bell reached his half-century, with Clarke limited to an over from Watson and 14 balls from Lee before both went off the field with injuries.
McKay was the pick of the Australian bowlers, adding the wicket of Bell, chopping on to his stumps, to his tally to end with figures of 10-1-29-2. The two men drafted into the side for the first time in the series, Ben Hilfenhaus and James Pattinson, both looked rusty by comparison.
Australia ended up trying eight different bowlers in the course of the innings, with Hussey and Clarke himself turning their arms over as the target drew slowly into sight. As Clarke himself acknowledged, they will need better options if they are to compete with England in next summer's Ashes and beyond.