The Black Cats took the lead at Stamford Bridge on the stroke of half-time, as Cesar Azpilicueta turned the ball into his own net.
However, the Blues came back almost straight after the restart, with Matthew Kilgallon unwittingly diverting the ball past Simon Mignolet.
Branislav Ivanovic then netted what would prove to the winner after 55 minutes, diverting a David Luiz ball into the back of the Sunderland net.
Benitez, who has been heavily criticised since his arrival in west London for his tactics and selections, responded to recent jibes after the game, playing down talk of a crisis at the club:
“Two or three days before it was a crisis, two hours before the game it was the end of the world. Now we are in the top three again.” He told Sky Sports.
“The media, you are too quick, too fast, everything is going too fast. We have to settle down and analyse things and have more relaxation when you do your analysis.”
The Spaniard made five changes for the team that beat Rubin Kazan on Thursday in an attempt to keep his squad fresh ahead of a fixture pile-up during their run-in.
He was happy with his decision after the game:
“You always try to select the right team. If you win you will say that is right, if you cannot, maybe we will find something to talk about.
“We see the players training and today you could see some players who were a little bit tired.”
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