Hope Powell's side claimed the point they required after they went ahead after 63 minutes when Hoda Lattaf deflected a Rachel Yankey free-kick into her own net.
However, France fought back and equalized through substitute Ludivine Diguelman with just one minute of normal time remaining, setting up a tense finish.
Yet England stood firm and booked their place alongside Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden as the European qualifiers for the FIFA Women's World Cup.
England enjoyed the majority of the possession in the opening stages and Kelly Smith and Karen Carney tested the reflexes of Sarah Bouhaddi in the opening 15 minutes.
Yet as the half wore on, the French began to create chances and Marinette Pichon went close on two separate occasions only to be frustrated by wayward finishing and England keeper Rachel Brown.
In the 39th minute, Brown had to be at her best to keep out a half-volley from Lataff, which looked destined for the bottom corner, as Hope Powell's side clung on until to the interval.
Sandrine Soubeyrand came within inches of connecting with Sonia Bompastor's free-kick from the right before Pichon forced a good save from Brown.
But in the 63rd minute, England took the lead when Yankey's free-kick on the right dropped into the danger area and Lattaf, under considerable pressure from Fara Williams, sent the ball looping over France keeper Sarah Bouhaddi.
Les Bleues immediately went on the attack in search of an equaliser. First Pichon hit a stinging drive, before Lattaf deflected a volley wide when it seemed destined for the net, as England breathed a sigh of relief.
A frantic finish was guaranteed when the French substitute Ludivine Diguelman fired an incredible, if fortunate, effort over Brown and into the net to level the scores.
England almost scored again on the counter-attack but Eni Aluko's shot rebounded off the post. The miss did not matter, however, as England secured the draw to spark celebratory scenes among their loyal band of followers.
"I'm just delighted it's over," said Powell, who has guided England to their first FIFA Women's World Cup finals for 11 years. "The girls were magnificent tonight, our backs were against the wall, but we stuck to our gameplan and it worked.
"A lot of credit must go to the French. They are a very good side, but I would say that when you consider the entire qualifying campaign, we deserved to go through. We remained unbeaten throughout - that showed the character of the side and I believe there is a lot more to come.
"It's been hard work. It's been a long journey, but it's been a rewarding journey."