England were lying second in their group as they went into their final match of the night against Argentina, with defeat set to bring relegation to the bowl competition.
But they upped the ante against the South Americans and produced their most powerful performance of the day, booking their place in the quarter-final with a 26-7 victory.
Michael Hills opened the scoring with a powerful run to the line, while the rapid David Doherty twice outstripped Los Pumas' defence to score either side of half-time.
Simon Amor converted both before Rob Thirlby pounced on a loose ball to add a fourth try.
Leonardo Casal scored a consolation for the Argentinians but it was too little too late.
Earlier, a fired-up England ripped through Portugal 58-5 after drawing 14-14 with Wales in their opener.
Wales also qualified from Pool B after beating Portugal 17-5 and Argentina 10-7.
Scotland's young team were very much on the receiving end on day one in Pool D, losing 35-5 to New Zealand in the opening game of the tournament before going down 31-12 to Australia.
A miserable day for the Scots was completed with a massive 33-14 loss to surprise package Tunisia, who progressed at the expense of Australia.