Dawid Malan underlined his T20 credentials with a fabulous 82, while left-arm seamer Sam Curran bowled with precision at the death to help the visitors seal the three-match T20 series and give them a timely boost heading into the World Cup.
Malan shared a crucial 92-run stand in Canberra with Moeen Ali (44) as England compiled 178-7 against a full-strength Australian attack after being reduced to 54-4.
In reply, Australia kept losing wickets and while Mitchell Marsh hit 45 off 29 balls and Tim David scored 40 off 23, the hosts fell short.
Curran finished with 3-25 as the Aussies struggled to 170-6.
"Really satisfying win after losing the toss as well and setting a target," said England skipper Jos Buttler. "I think we showed great character and Malan played fantastically well to anchor the innings."
Buttler also praised Curran’s contribution, saying “he’s one of those guys who enjoys those tough overs … wants to be in the thick of things.
“We had to get Tim David out to win the game. We knew we needed to find a way to get him out.”
Malan smashed seven boundaries and four sixes in his 49-ball innings to revive England. He went in at the start of the third over after Buttler was out for 17. Malan dug in while Hales (4), Ben Stokes (7) and Harry Brook (1) all fell cheaply.
Malan, playing his 50th T20 international, raised his 50 from 31 balls and kept the pressure on the Australian attack. He had a reprieve on 54 when he skied one down the ground off Mitchell Starc and David was not only unable to catch the ball, but pushed it over the boundary for six.
The Australians' reply never got going. David Warner made just four off 11 deliveries before skewing Reece Topley just three balls after Aaron Finch, back opening following a middle-order stint, drove to mid-off off David Willey.
Curran took out the dangerous Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis with the leg-side sweeper holding the catch on both occasions.
This came either side of a fantastic boundary save from Stokes, who pouched Marsh but, sensing he was about to go over the rope, threw the ball back into the outfield before he did so.
Stokes, who had earlier opened the bowling for the first time in his T20 career, returned for the 15th and struck with his first ball as Marsh whipped to deep square-leg to depart for 45 off 29 balls.
Chris Jordan was rusty on his return from a fractured finger and took some punishment from David to give Australia firm belief with three overs to go. Curran then snared David and kept things tight before Topley did likewise. While Pat Cummins smashed a full toss for six from the first ball of the last over, Curran held his nerve at the death.
Australia captain Finch blamed poor fielding for the defeat. While the hosts dropped four catches, England held on to every chance.
"We were really poor in the field, pretty sloppy," Finch said. "Especially when we had them four down inside the first 10 overs.
"[Tim] David has been fantastic, his raw power has been fantastic. Depends on the opposition, but this XI is close. There is a debate about one or two spots. It is nice to have three world-class quicks."
The teams will meet again in Canberra on Friday before a final week of preparation for the T20 World Cup. The first round begins on Sunday while the Super 12 stage begins on October 22.