The world champion topped Q2 then absolutely dominated Q3. Vettel's initial 1m12.268s effort put him a quarter of a second clear of the pack, and he then improved to 1m11.918s with his final attempt.
Mark Webber made it an all-Red Bull front row, winning a battle with McLaren's Q1 pacesetter Jenson Button as the Briton ended a run of Interlagos qualifying disasters to take third. Button had looked like he might manage to hang on to a front row slot until Webber came through with a 1m12.099s on his second run.
Lewis Hamilton was back in fourth in the other McLaren.
The Ferraris took fifth and seventh - Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa split by Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, who had been a surprise second in Q2. Rosberg's team-mate Michael Schumacher did not attempt a final lap in Q3 so will start 10th.
Paul di Resta (Force India) and Vitaly Petrov (Renault) could not match their respective team-mates and will start 11th and 16th. The Toro Rossos will share row seven, while the Saubers made up the tail of the Q2 pack.
Pastor Maldonado was half a second down on Williams team-mate Rubens Barrichello as he ended up on the wrong side of the Q1 cut-off in 18th.
Lotus' new rear wing did not bring the hoped-for Q2 progress, but the team did move a further step closer to those ahead, with Heikki Kovalainen within half a second of Toro Rosso, Sauber and Williams pace.
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