But Craig Gardner pulled one back just before the break for Sunderland, who then wasted numerous chances in a second half they dominated without managing to secure a much-needed result. The win moves the Canaries up to 12th in the table, with Sunderland still only one place and one point above the relegation zone.
The hosts dominated the opening exchanges and looked much sharper in possession, with Sunderland defender Matthew Kilgallon cautioned by referee Phil Dowd after just three minutes for tugging at Norwich skipper Grant Holt as he turned past him.
Another free-kick conceded five minutes later led to the opening goal as Robert Snodgrass' set-piece was flicked on by Bradley Johnson, the ball taking a deflection off the arm of Carlos Cuellar before being bundled home from close range by Bassong, with the borderline offside decision going in Norwich's favour.
Bradley Johnson played a through ball into the run of Pilkington, who was played onside by Kilgallon, and the winger ran through on goal before rounding Cuellar and coolly slotting past Simon Mignolet.
With just one minute remaining before half-time, Sunderland hauled themselves back into the game. Adam Johnson skipped down the left flank and pulled the ball across to Gardner who arrowed a low effort past Mark Bunn.
Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill introduced striker Connor Wickham at half-time with Steven Fletcher making way and the visitors started the second half brightly, with only a clearance from Ryan Bennett stopping Wickham from tapping home to make an immediate impact.
Sunderland should have been level as a rasping Gardner free-kick rattled the post and Kilgallon turned the rebound over the bar from six yards out. Stephane Sessegnon shot straight at Bunn, while Wickham had the ball the back of the net with 13 minutes remaining but the former Ipswich man was flagged offside.
Holt then had a great chance late on to punish the profligacy of their visitors but a heavy touch meant Mignolet could collect the loose ball, before Elliott Bennett found Holt with a decent cross only for the Canaries captain to blaze a difficult chance over the bar.