Australian Mark Webber finished fourth, ahead of Hulkenberg in fifth in his last race for Force India before moving to Sauber.
Seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher took seventh place for Mercedes in his last race in Formula One, moving over to allow his friend and compatriot Vettel to take sixth and join him as one of only three drivers to win three titles in a row.
The two Germans embraced each other at the finish, with Red Bull staff swiftly donning 'V3ttel' T-shirts as the champagne celebrations kicked off with Vettel also making a point of hugging Alonso and Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali.
"I'm finishing off and he's clinching his third title. I'm very proud of him and he's a good friend of mine and lets see what happens in his future," said Schumacher.
Out of the points, Caterham celebrated 11th place for Russian Vitaly Petrov that lifted them back ahead of Marussia into 10th place overall in the championship - a finish worth millions to the team in prize money.
"Disappointed doesn't even come close," said Marussia principal John Booth.
Image: Force India driver Paul di Resta, of Britain, walks off his car after crashing during the Formula One Brazilian Grand Prix at the Interlagos race track in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel, of Germany, overcame a first-lap crash to clinch his third straight Formula One championship title on Sunday, finishing sixth in an incident-filled Brazilian Grand Prix won by Jenson Button under pouring rain.