The pole was a record-extending 82nd of Hamilton’s career and his 10th of a season that has already seen the Briton clinch his fifth world championship. Vettel however had a track record time in final practice.
The German, his Formula One championship hopes already over for another season after Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton won his fifth title in Mexico last month, produced a best lap of one minute 07.948 seconds on Saturday.
Vettel’s time was about half a second quicker than last year’s pole position, set by Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, at Interlagos.
Hamilton was 0.217 seconds slower, with Bottas third and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen fourth.
The two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, who has a five-place grid penalty after a turbo swap, were fifth and sixth fastest.
Ricciardo copped the penalty after his Red Bull team replaced the turbocharger on his car’s power unit, exceeding the driver’s permitted allocation.
Team principal Christian Horner said the problem was a consequence of Ricciardo’s retirement at the previous race in Mexico and the local marshals’ use of a fire extinguisher.
Mercedes will clinch their fifth successive constructor’s championship with a race to spare on Sunday unless Ferrari score 13 points more than them. If that happens, and a Ferrari one-two finish would do the trick, then the battle stays open to the final round in Abu Dhabi.
Hamilton missed about 15 minutes of the session with mechanics working on his car after smoke was seen coming from the back of his Mercedes.
A team spokesman said a breather pipe had come adrift and needed to be put back in place with everything checked over before Hamilton could go back out.