A monumental London derby win lifts the pressure on the Blues, who started the match in 13th place but rose to 10th and cut the gap on the European contenders.
Mauricio Pochettino had been in the spotlight ahead of kick-off but once the football started, everyone forgot about his return to Spurs.
Tottenham got two red cards in a fiery match, which featured nearly a dozen major VAR incidents and five goals - with five more disallowed.
Dejan Kulusevski opened the scoring, Cole Palmer netted a penalty before Nicolas Jackson notched a late hat-trick to seal the victory. Both Cristian Romero and Destiny Udogie were sent off for Spurs.
Jackson arrives with derby hat-trick
Jackson enjoyed a weight lifted off his shoulders after stroking in his first and Chelsea's second goal in the derby.
The 22-year-old was under pressure ahead of kick-off having only scored three times all season but doubled his tally in one match as space opened up.
He had looked nervy before his first goal and missed a couple of big chances, having also had a goal ruled out by VAR for a marginal offside.
However, he fired home three finishes on the break late on, utilising his devastating pace to be the main man when Chelsea needed him.
He lapped up the adulation, shushing the Spurs crowd and pointing to Chelsea's badge whenever on camera.
James truly returns
Ange Postecoglou cleverly started with Brennan Johnson against James, and, having been out for three months, he struggled with his pace.
Cristian Romero's red card was a godsend for James, who was then unleashed on Tottenham.
He played incredible passes from deep midfield positions and overlapped at will, growing into the game as he builds in fitness through minutes on the pitch.
Ultimately he was the best outfield player on the pitch and came off having pushed himself to play for 75 minutes, replaced as soon as Jackson scored.
Super Sterling the real match-winner
Ahead of kick-off, more than 40 per cent of Chelsea's attacks had come down Sterling's right-hand side.
Chelsea looked for Sterling at every opportunity whether Spurs had nine, 10 or 11 men. His cross eventually broke down the resistance and secured the all-important second goal.
That relentless ability to run at pace saw the ball in the net twice earlier having similarly set up Jackson in the first half, only for the goal to be ruled by VAR. He also scored but VAR ruled it out after the ball bobbled up onto his arm.
Cole Palmer was similarly effective on the other flank, scoring a penalty and setting up the last of Jackson's goals.