The Sharks were staring at a seventh consecutive defeat when they trailed 27-12 to the Blues at the City of Salford Stadium, but the introduction of Cipriani after 49 minutes sparked a dramatic transformation.
Cipriani scored one try and helped create another for debutant winger Mark Jennings to bring Sale right back into contention.
And after Cardiff replacement Lewis Jones was sin-binned with seven minutes to go, they struck the winning blow through prop Tony Buckley.
"It's something we've been longing for," said Cipriani, who joined the Sharks from Melbourne Rebels in the summer. "We had to give the fans something to cheer about and we did.
"I enjoyed it. It was good fun. I think the boys were playing pretty well before I came on so it was seamless to fit in there."
Cipriani has endured a stop-start first season with the Sharks so far, with injury and illness restricting him to just three starts, and former Cardiff fly-half Nick Macleod was preferred ahead of him for the number 10 jersey.
"Every player wants to have game time," Cipriani said. "I've just got to fit in with what the coach wants and needs. I'm new into a team.
"Obviously I want to start. Mac is a long servant for the club and he's a great player.
"He wants that jersey but, if you've got two 10s going for it and both playing well, that's better for the team. I've got to keep working at it and hopefully I'll get a start next week."
Sale director of rugby Bryan Redpath was thrilled with the impact made by his club's high-profile recruit.
"It was great to see him perform like that and hopefully it will give us a huge confidence boost," he said. "Hopefully Danny and the team can kick on from that.
"His attacking flair has never been in question, but he had three great kicks for field position and he made his tackles when he needed to, and that was just as important."
After making their worst-ever start to a Premiership campaign, Redpath admitted today's nerve-tingling victory came as a "huge relief".
"We've been on the wrong end of these results," he said. "We created two great chances in the first 25 minutes but in the next 15 minutes we conceded three soft tries, and suddenly we're thinking deja vu.
"I said to the players at half-time we were staring down the barrel of a gun. We had to go out with the right mindset to win the game.
"It's been a tough six weeks. We've taken a lot of flak, quite rightly so in many ways, but hopefully we can turn the corner. The next two games are huge for us."
Cardiff's defeat - their second in the competition by a point after going down 27-26 at Edgeley Park three years ago - was tough on winger Alex Cuthbert, who scored a first-half hat-trick of tries, and full-back Leigh Halfpenny, who kicked seven goals from as many attempts, including two penalties from inside his own half.
They were also forced to play all but the first five minutes without Wales captain and flanker Sam Warburton, who was sent to hospital after medical staff were unable to put a dislocated finger back in place.
However, director of rugby Phil Davies managed to draw positives from the loss.
"It's a bit frustrating but overall it was more like the performance we're looking for as a team," said Davies, whose side went into the game on the back of consecutive defeats in the RaboDirect PRO12.
"The platform up front was pretty good and with the ball in hand in the first half we were pretty clinical.
"We just weren't consistent enough, particularly in the last quarter of an hour.
"There are lots for us to take away - the bonus point plus the way we played.
"It's a young team and I thought today they came of age a bit and performed really well away from home.
"After the dust has settled, this will give us confidence. I thought we went up a level today."
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