Eight minutes was all it took to blow away any sense of unease on Wearside.
Sunderland had made a promising start to the season but after two years of utter misery, three games without a win had made the mood a touch edgy.
The Black Cats, however, showed the value of coming through the difficult early stage of the game unscathed.
Towards the end of the first half they clicked into gear and blew Rochdale away with three tremendous goals that killed the contest stone dead.
Josh Maja underlined his growing confidence with two excellent finishes, the 19-year-old forming a deadly triumvirate with Lynden Gooch and Chris Maguire. Gooch added two goals of his own to get Sunderland back on track in their push for League One promotion.
It had been a sluggish start from the home side, with Rochdale having the best early opportunity 20 minutes in, Aaron Wilbraham cutting in unchecked from the left but firing well over.
Jack Ross's side had been limited to a couple of promising openings, with Denver Hume and Gooch flashing crosses across the box with no one on the end.
It was Maguire who got the ball rolling. Drifting into space on the left, he placed a delightful cross right onto the head of the unmarked Maja, who nonchalantly nodded the ball into the corner.
Moments later, Maguire produced a wonderful turn on the halfway line to escape his marker, pinging an early ball across the pitch. Maja collected and released Gooch, who cleverly drew the penalty.
He stepped up and dispatched into the bottom right corner, Joshua Lillis guessing the right way but unable to save.
The blitz was complete on the stroke of half time, as George Honeyman and Hume built an attack down the left. The ball was played into the feet of Maja, who took one touch before scoring.
Rochdale had rarely threatened since that Wilbraham effort, testing Jon McLaughlin only once. Samuel Hart hit a firm free-kick shortly after Gooch's penalty but the Sunderland keeper did well to palm it away from danger.
At the beginning of the second period he really showed his quality, a tremendous double save from Calvin Andrew and then Ian Henderson preventing he Black Cats from conceding yet another set piece goal.
Sunderland came through that pressure and began to carve open a deflated Rochdale. Both Hume and Lee Cattermole missed good chances to test Lillis after good overlapping runs, with the visitors struggling to contain their forward runs.
The fourth felt inevitable and when it came it was another moment of real individual quality.
Maguire switched the ball out to left, where Gooch controlled and ran for goal. He coasted past his nearest markers and curled the ball into the far corner on his weaker foot.
Substitute Matty Done added a consolation for the visitors but it was an ultimately comfortable end to a satisfying afternoon for the Black Cats.
Sunderland XI: McLaughlin; Flanagan, Loovens, Baldwin, Hume; McGeouch, Cattermole, Honeyman; Gooch (Oviedo, 86) Maguire (McGeady, 73), Maja (Sinclair, 69)
Subs: Ruiter, Matthews, O'Nien, James
Rochdale XI: Lillis; Rafferty, McGahey, Delaney, Hart; Henderson, Camps, Rathbone (Adshead, 63); Andrew, Gillam (Williams, 55), Wilbraham (Done, 63)
Subs: McNulty, Perkins, Moore, Matheson
Bookings: Loovens, 22 Rafferty, 45 Rathbone, 50 Henderson, 52