The England forward scored a hat-trick in City's midweek thrashing of Atalanta and plundered his seventh league goal of the season to help City see off in-form Villa, who matched the champions for 45 minutes.
Villa boss Dean Smith, taking charge of his boyhood club for the 50th time, might have picked up a result had it not been for the swagger with which Sterling is playing this season and he made no mistake when put through at close range just 20 seconds after the restart.
Kevin De Bruyne curled in a contentious second after 65 minutes, the suspicion of offside dismissed following a lengthy VAR review, and an Ilkay Gundogan strike killed Villa off before Fernandinho blotted a fine performance with a second yellow card.
John Stones allowed John McGinn to force a good one-handed save from Ederson, but City began to dominate possession and David Silva squandered a golden chance when he side-footed narrowly wide on the cusp of half-time.
The second half was 20 seconds old when Ederson's long, high ball forward was knocked down by Gabriel Jesus to Sterling, who slid the ball through Heaton's legs from six yards out.
Gündoğan 😳😳 pic.twitter.com/QUmjfwttVF— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) October 26, 2019
Tyrone Mings turned a Jesus effort over the crossbar with his knee moments later to keep Villa in the contest until De Bruyne's cross-cum-shot bounced within a whisker of David Silva and Sterling, who was offside when the ball was kicked, before beating Heaton into the far corner of the net.
Buoyed by good fortune on the second, Pep Guardiola's men went for the jugular and bagged a third when Fernandinho and Bernardo Silva took turns at flashing the ball across the face of goal before Gundogan scissor-kicked home his first league goal of the season.
After picking up a yellow card for a foul on Jack Grealish, Fernandinho made a clumsy challenge on Keinan Davis and was sent off, souring an otherwise excellent afternoon for Guardiola who could do without defensive suspensions.
Mings made his second goal-line clearance of the day after Gabriel Jesus' chip hit the crossbar and Ederson made a fine save to deny Davis at the other end before John McGinn hit the post at the death.
What does it mean? All eyes on Anfield
The result moves City back to within three points of leaders Liverpool ahead of their clash with Tottenham on Sunday, and buries the memory of a shock home defeat to Wolves on October 6.
Sterling shows polish
It looked like one of those games when City could do everything but score until Sterling was presented with his first clear chance and showed just why he is one of the league's most feared forwards.
Mings lets Jesus in
Villa's plans for the second half were upended when Mings let Jesus win the header that put Sterling through for the opener, and there was no way back for the visitors.
City play the first of their back-to-back games against Southampton when they meet in the EFL Cup on Tuesday, while Villa face a Black Country derby at home against Wolves in the same competition the next day.