England captain Andrew Strauss hailed outstanding contributions from James Anderson, Graeme Swann and Kevin Pietersen after leaving Sri Lanka with a share of the spoils.
England's position atop the rankings was under major threat leading into the second and final Test after a series-opening defeat in Galle had seen them lose four successive Test matches inside four days.
But England bounced back strongly in Colombo, wrapping up an eight-wicket victory thanks to 10 wickets in the match from off-spinner Swann and a sublime counter-attacking century from Pietersen in the first-innings.
Seam bowler Anderson also played his part with 12 wickets in the series and Strauss, who has been under pressure following England's recent slump, was delighted by the response from his players.
He told Sky Sports 1HD after the match: "At the end of the day this will look like a reasonably comfortable victory but we all know how hard we had to work for that.
"There were some outstanding performances - Jimmy Anderson again on an unresponsive wicket was outstanding; Graeme Swann proved his worth once again and was a constant threat throughout the game; and Kevin Pietersen really took the game away from the opposition with an outstanding innings. He showed everyone what quality he has and why he's such a special talent.
"Everyone had to work really hard - the fielding and bowling, just to keep plugging away in the second innings when there wasn't much going on. We've had to work hard for this victory. It's been a tough winter but we're delighted to come through at the end of it."
Strauss also got a few runs under his belt after a below-par winter with the bat, posting 61 in the first innings before a second-innings duck.
"It's good to get few runs," he said. "I would have liked to get a few more but the most important thing is winning the game. We set ourselves that target and we didn't want to walk away from Sri Lanka having lost the series. I'm delighted by the way guys reacted to the challenge.
"(We're) still number one - for a while yet, hopefully!"
Sri Lanka skipper Mahela Jayawardene admitted his side's first-innings total of 275 was nowhere near enough, but gave credit to Strauss and his team.
"It has been a very well-fought series," he said. "We knew it was going to be tough coming into the second Test match and it proved to be.
"We made quite a few mistakes in the first innings. England got in front and it's quite difficult to tame a side that has that much quality.
"Credit to Andrew and his team. I thought they played really good cricket, supported by huge group of fans."
Jayawardene, who was later named man of the series after piling up 354 runs at an average of 88.5, sensed the hosts may have had a sniff at preventing England from reaching their victory target of 94 when they got Strauss out in the opening over, but that was soon extinguished by Alastair Cook (49 not out) and Pietersen.
He added: "You need to pick up three or four wickets early on, but Alastair played very positively and took the game away from us, then Kevin came in and finished off.
"The first two days we made too many mistakes to get back into the Test match and England proved to be a very strong outfit."