After a five-year absence, a sell-out 120,000 crowd at the all-new £250million Circuit of The Americas were treated to a thrilling advert for the sport, resulting in the best possible conclusion to the year.
On the occasion of his 100th grand prix, Vettel was forced to settle for second behind the brilliant Lewis Hamilton, who conjured up the 21st win of his career.
Crucially, with Alonso third, it means there is now a 13-point gap between the Spaniard and Vettel heading in to the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos next week.
Assessing the conclusion to the campaign, which goes to the wire for the 27th time in F1 history, the German said: "The car is working well and good enough to fight.
"We've been quick in Brazil the last couple of years, and I have extended my lead in the championship, so we are in a good position."
In a Ferrari nowhere near the pace of Hamilton or Vettel, Alonso finished 40 seconds adrift of the front pair, but was happy to still be in with a shot at the title.
"Our championship is alive thanks to the first laps, finishing in the first three or four positions, after which the race becomes easier," said Alonso.
"We knew there was a good chance to overtake people at the first corner, so this podium is like a victory for us.
"It's now great to be going to Brazil still in with a chance of winning this championship."
Elsewhere, It was a mixed race for the British drivers with Jenson Button falling to fifth place after a promising start, while Scotland's Paul Di Resta came in 15th, one ahead of Michael Schumacher.