A replay showed Gordon's knee did not hit the grass, and the officials overturned it on review, ending the game.
Twice last season, Tennessee thought it had pulled out a win in the closing seconds of the game only to see its fate changed because of penalties.
Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was seen skipping through the press box after the game, shouting "We finally got a break!"
A 20-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to Chris Boyd gave Vanderbilt (5-6, 2-6) a 21-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee made it to fourth-and-goal at the 5 on the next drive, and coach Derek Dooley called for a 23-yard field goal attempt. Sean Richardson appeared to block the attempt but was penalized for running into kicker Michael Palardy.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin asked for a review of the play, but the officials maintained that Richardson had not touched the ball before hitting Palardy's leg. Tennessee got another chance at the 2-yard line, and this time Dooley opted to go for it.
The decision paid off. Tyler Bray threw to Da' Rick Rogers, who stretched his right hand out to reel the ball in to his chest as Casey Hayward covered him. The touchdown tied the game at 21 with 6:27 to play.
After the teams traded punts, Vanderbilt drove the ball with confidence it hadn't shown all half, picking up three first downs. But the drive stalled when Prentiss Waggner intercepted a pass from Rodgers at the Vols 35.
Tennessee was unable to move the ball before the fourth-quarter clock expired.
Bray was 16 of 33 for 189 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in his first game back after breaking his right thumb Oct. 8 against Georgia. The cast on Bray's throwing hand was removed Nov. 7, and the quarterback returned to practice a week later.
Rogers caught 10 passes for 116 yards and the two touchdown throws from Bray, and became Tennessee's seventh receiver to have at least 1,000 yards in a season. Tauren Poole had 107 yards on 19 runs and a touchdown.
Rodgers was 17 of 32 for 193 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Jordan Matthews had 74 yards receiving, and Boyd had 66 yards receiving and a touchdown. Zac Stacy ran for another score.
Vanderbilt was favored by 1 1/2 points in the game, but Tennessee has now won 28 of the last 29 in the series.
The Commodores had a chance to become bowl eligible against Tennessee and now must beat Wake Forest next week for a chance to go bowling for just the fifth time in history.
The Vols needed a win over Vanderbilt coupled with a victory at Kentucky next week to keep from missing out on a bowl for the second time in the past four seasons.