After second-placed Manchester City stumbled to a draw at Queens Park Rangers the previous night, it was an evening of opportunity for United, and after the early shock of falling behind to a Jay Rodriguez strike, Rooney rose to the challenge and fired both of United's goals at Old Trafford.
Rodriguez rocked the home support when he took advantage of a poor backpass by Michael Carrick and beat David de Gea to the ball before slotting home inside three minutes.
Rooney dragged United level five minutes later though when he produced a smart finish to convert Shinji Kagawa's pass, and then tapped in his second and the eventual winner after 27 minutes when Patrice Evra headed Robin van Persie's free-kick from the left across goal.
Liverpool looked to be cruising to victory at the Emirates Stadium when it led Arsenal 2-0 after an hour, but the home side scored twice in rapid succession to force a 2-2 draw.
Luis Suarez fired Liverpool ahead in the fifth minute with a deflected strike after a messy build-up and lax defending. And the Arsenal backline was at its shambolic worst again as Liverpool extended the lead after 59 minutes, allowing Jordan Henderson to barge through from the right flank and tuck the ball beyond Wojciech Szczesny.
Olivier Giroud maintained his recent excellent form to pull the first goal back five minutes later though, heading in powerfully from Jack Wilshere's free-kick, and the French striker laid off a pass from Wilshere into the path of Theo Walcott to drive in Arsenal's second in the 67th minute.
The draw was of little help to either side's hope of breaking into the UEFA Champions League places.
By contrast, Leighton Baines scored twice, with the first a crunching 20-yard drive and the second a penalty, as Everton beat West Bromwich Albion 2-1 to move a point behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
The left-back raced forward to collect a pass from Leon Osman and fired into the top left corner as Everton went ahead in the 29th minute at Goodison Park. He then drilled in a penalty just before half-time after Victor Anichebe was brought down by Claudio Yacob.
It might have been comfortable for Everton after that but for a defensive blunder from Johnny Heitinga. The defender made a mess of attempting to block Romelu Lukaku's low shot, with the ball looping up for Shane Long to head in.
Tottenham Hotspur could only manage a 1-1 draw at Norwich City, and even that looked beyond it for a long while.
Wes Hoolahan converted Anthony Pilkington's cross to give Norwich a 1-0 lead in the 32nd minute, but it could not hold it and Gareth Bale produced a superb equaliser after 80 minutes, tearing forward with the ball at his feet from the halfway line before cracking a powerful shot into the left corner.
Third-placed Chelsea was cruising at Reading until two late goals from substitute Adam Le Fondre stunned Rafael Benitez's side, earning the host a point from an improbable 2-2 draw.
Juan Mata's firm left-footed finish from Fernando Torres' pass in the 45th minute and Frank Lampard's header after 65 minutes put Chelsea in charge. Le Fondre rifled what looked like a consolation in the 87th minute, but then struck again with a close-range volley in the fifth minute of stoppage-time.
Fulham triumphed 3-1 in its London derby with West Ham United at Craven Cottage thanks to goals from Dimitar Berbatov and Hugo Rodallega, both created by Damien Duff, and a late Joey O'Brien own goal.
Kevin Nolan brought West Ham briefly level in the 48th minute, but his side switched off at the back and Rodallega headed the winner a minute later when he beat three defenders and goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen to Duff's cross from the left. The late third was a bonus.