In a game of few clear-cut chances, Sunderland's Nicklas Bendtner came closest with a first half header over Shay Given's bar and the Dane was unlucky to see a goal chalked off on 75 minutes after the tightest of offside decisions after Stephen Ireland had earlier cleared a Bendtner effort off the line.
Alex McLeish's men had chances of their own, and were denied a penalty when Michael Turner clipped the onrushing Andreas Weimann.
Sunderland had Craig Gardner sent off for a second yellow in stoppage-time, but neither side showed enough quality to take all three points.
Black Cats boss Martin O'Neill returned to Villa Park for the first time since leaving them early last season. The Irishman had taken the Midlanders to three consecutive sixth places in the Premier League, a position that the incumbent Alex McLeish could only envy at the wrong end of the table.
With Sunderland in a comfortable ninth place before kick-off, the Wearsiders could afford to relax, but with just one win in 11, the hosts have been sucked into the periphery of the relegation battle.
If Villa had any pre-match nerves, they were almost dispelled within seconds of the start.
Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet was almost caught out by a back pass and Gabriel Agbonlahor forced the keeper into a smothering block.
The Villa striker was again in the thick of the action within minutes after cutting inside and testing Mignolet, before just failing to connect with Marc Albrighton's teasing delivery at the far post.
With Shay Given a spectator at the opposite end, Charles N'Zogbia came close with a low shot that Mignolet had to tip past his left post at full stretch.
Villa had a big shout for a penalty when Weimann got behind the Sunderland defence, only to go down under Turner's challenge, but referee Anthony Taylor deemed the clip was accidental and waved play on.
The hosts continued to press and Ireland should have done better with a shot that flew well over Mignolet's bar, but it was Sunderland who could have taken a lead into the break with seven minutes of the half remaining.
The Black Cats had hardly registered a shot on target all half, but when James McLean got down the Villa right, the unmarked Bendtner headed over from a matter of yards to leave the game deadlocked.
The hosts began the second period as they started the first as Weimann hit the side-netting from the edge of the area within seconds of the restart.
James McLean then came close for the visitors when he toe-poked Sessegnon's whipped cross past the post, before more controversy followed in the Sunderland box.
Emile Heskey, on for the injured Agbonlahor, set up Weimann, but as Mignolet rushed out to gather, his momentum carried him beyond the 18-yard line with the ball in his grasp.
With the Villa faithful baying for a red card, the man in the middle decided a talking to and a free-kick was punishment enough to further frustrate the hosts as the set-piece went begging.
Mignolet's continued presence again denied McLeish's men after Heskey slipped as he turned and shot.
Bendtner then had another chance to punish Villa on 69 minutes, only to see his shot cleared off the line by a desperately sliding Ireland, and Villa were saved by the assistant six minutes later by the assistant's flag when the Dane turned Sebastian Larsson's volley across the area into the net.
Villa's draining confidence was illustrated perfectly when Weimann elected to cut the ball back to Barry Bannan when the Austrian could see the whites of Mignolet's eyes with three minutes left.
And as the last seconds ticked down, there was still time for Gardner to upend Marc Albrighton, and the Sunderland man saw red in front of his watching family and his brother Gary on the Villa bench.
The draw still leaves the Midlanders looking over their shoulder, but are close to cementing their Premier League status.
The season has been one that McLeish will prefer to quickly forget, but while O'Neil''s season also draws to an insipid close, Sunderland's fans will feel they have more to look forward to in the next campaign.