Tendulkar was 48 not out and VVS Laxman 20 not out following an impressive 91 from opener Dinesh Karthik.
India, 1-0 up, had merely to avoid defeat in this match to win only their third series in England in 15 campaigns dating back to 1932.
England, by contrast, had to win to maintain their six-year unbeaten run in home Test series.
It seemed as if India, whose captain Rahul Dravid won the toss on a belting batting pitch, were threatening to put the game beyond England's reach before the first day ended when they were 189 for one.
But England, with James Anderson taking two wickets, fought back to have India 211 for three at tea. Tendulkar was two not out and Sourav Ganguly eight not out in what could be both players last Test in England.
Left-arm spinner Monty Panesar then saw Tendulkar, his childhood hero, strike him over extra-cover for four. Ganguly later drove Panesar for a straight six.
But Tendulkar should have been out when he edged Ryan Sidebottom only for wicket-keeper Matt Prior, who moved late, to drop the diving catch despite getting both hands to the ball with India 245 for three in the 67th over.
It was bad miss by Prior, whose footwork while keeping, and fondness for sledging, have both been criticised this series and he ended the day having conceded 21 byes.
As for left-arm quick Sidebottom, who repeatedly beat the bat during India's seven-wicket second Test win at Trent Bridge while taking just a solitary wicket, it was yet another instance of bad luck.
The same could not be said of medium-pacer Paul Collingwood.
Brought on shortly before the new ball was taken, he struck with his 12th delivery when Ganguly was given out lbw for 37, despite the former England skipper getting a thick inside edge onto his pad.
It was a poor decision by South African umpire Ian Howell, standing in just his ninth Test in six years, and Ganguly did well to manage no more than a rueful smile as he walked off following a stand of 77 with Tendulkar.
India were now 276 for four.
They had resumed after lunch on 117 for one with Karthik 50 not out and Dravid 25 not out.
In the second over after the break Karthik, on 58, gave a sharp chance when he was dropped at short extra-cover by Andrew Strauss following a drive off Panesar.
Dravid, who in India's last Test at The Oval five years ago scored 217, responded to England counterpart Michael Vaughan's decision to post two fielders close in at short extra-cover by driving Panesar between the pair of them for four.
He went on to complete an 82-ball fifty with eight fours. But a stand of 127 was ended when Dravid, on 55, was bowled by Anderson's yorker.
No India batsman has so far made a hundred in this series but it seemed as if Karthik, whose lone Test century came against minnows Bangladesh earlier this year, was about to end that sequence.
But nine runs short he played at a ball angled across him from Sidebottom and Prior held the straightforward chance.
India had now seen 189 for two become 199 for three. Karthik faced 151 balls with one six and 10 fours.
Wasim Jaffer was first out, caught following an uppercut for a dashing 35 when going well by Kevin Pietersen at third man off Anderson, having previously cut the bowler for six in the same region.