Andrew Strauss (87) appeared set to lead all the way from the front as he carried his team to 185 for three, in pursuit of 212 all out, with more than seven overs remaining. However, only some nerveless late hitting from Tim Bresnan sneaked them home by a solitary wicket, after six had fallen for 18 runs.
Graeme Swann (four for 37) and James Anderson (three for 22) did the damage as Australia were bowled out in only 46 overs. Then Strauss underpinned the chase on the way to victory which eventually came with only five balls to spare.
England began their reply in unpromising fashion with Craig Kieswetter out for a first-ball duck, as Shaun Tait (three for 28) ripped out his middle-stump with late swing. But Strauss dug in to oversee half-century stands with Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Eoin Morgan.
The fragile Tait is carefully handled by Australia and was out of the attack after one wicket for four runs in two overs. It was not until he returned that Pietersen succumbed, caught and bowled thanks to a change of pace.
With Collingwood and Morgan already gone, England just needed to eke out a handful more runs but Strauss edged Ryan Harris behind
and was swiftly followed back to the pavilion by Luke Wright, Mike Yardy, Swann and Stuart Broad.
After Strauss had surprisingly chosen to bowl first on a sunny morning, an opening stand of 75 in under 14 overs suggested the hosts might end up chasing a total approaching 300. But once Michael Yardy trapped Tim Paine lbw the shutters were pulled firmly shut.
Ricky Ponting skipped down the wicket to Swann and was stumped, and from there the Australian innings never really recovered
"It was pretty horrendous in the end," said Strauss. "But any series win against Australia is a big achievement and you have to dig deep."