Lewis Hamilton clinched his third pole position of the season in Singapore, after a crash by Rubens Barrichello brought the qualifying session to an early end.
Sebastian Vettel kept his and Red Bull's title hopes alive as he joined Hamilton on the front row - and the German will be particularly encouraged as the two Brawns will be starting from 10th and 12th.
Championship leader Button had been frustrated with his car in final practice, but seemed to have conquered his problems when he took a close second behind Hamilton in Q1. It was a false dawn though, as Button was off the pace throughout Q2 and only managed 12th on the grid.
Barrichello, who had a gearbox change before qualifying, also came close to being eliminated in Q2 as well, before a superb last gasp charge got him into the top ten. He then took fifth on the provisional grid before crashing heavily with 26s on the clock. The subsequent red flag meant no one was able to push him down the order, so he will be 10th when his gearbox change penalty is applied.
The red flag was particularly unfortunate for Williams' Nico Rosberg, who had been quickest in Q2 and was on a very rapid Q3 lap when the session was stopped. He had to settle for third - which still equals his career-best.
Mark Webber completes the second row for Red Bull, with Renault's Fernando Alonso and Toyota's Timo Glock moving up to row three once Barrichello's penalty is applied.
The two BMWs also got into Q3 and qualified ahead of Heikki Kovalainen's McLaren in what will become seventh and eighth.
Ferrari had predicted yesterday that it faced a difficult weekend, and so it proved as Kimi Raikkonen was only 13th in the line-up. With Giancarlo Fisichella struggling to 18th, it marked the first time all year that Ferrari had failed to get a car in the top ten.
Williams' Kazuki Nakajima and Toyota's Jarno Trulli were both a long way off their respective team-mates and ended up 11th and 15th.
The return to a high downforce track meant the end of the fairytale for Force India. After recent front row heroics, the team had to settle for 16th and 20th for Adrian Sutil and Tonio Liuzzi.
Sebastien Buemi was the only one of the three rookies to get into Q2, taking 14th. His Toro Rosso team-mate Jaime Alguersuari will start 17th, with Romain Grosjean's troubled weekend getting no better as he had an early trip down an escape road and complained of brake problems on the way to 19th for Renault.
Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3 1. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes (B) 1:46.977 1:46.657 1:47.891 2. Vettel Red Bull-Renault (B) 1:47.541 1:46.362 1:48.204 3. Rosberg Williams-Toyota (B) 1:47.390 1:46.197 1:48.348 4. Webber Red Bull-Renault (B) 1:47.646 1:46.328 1:48.722 5. Barrichello Brawn-Mercedes (B) 1:47.397 1:46.787 1:48.828 6. Alonso Renault (B) 1:47.757 1:46.767 1:49.054 7. Glock Toyota (B) 1:47.770 1:46.707 1:49.180 8. Heidfeld BMW-Sauber (B) 1:47.347 1:46.832 1:49.307 9. Kubica BMW-Sauber (B) 1:47.615 1:46.813 1:49.51410. Kovalainen McLaren-Mercedes (B) 1:47.542 1:46.842 1:49.77811. Nakajima Williams-Toyota (B) 1:47.637 1:47.01312. Button Brawn-Mercedes (B) 1:47.180 1:47.14113. Raikkonen Ferrari (B) 1:47.293 1:47.17714. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari (B) 1:47.677 1:47.36915. Trulli Toyota (B) 1:47.690 1:47.41316. Sutil Force India-Mercedes (B) 1:48.23117. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari (B) 1:48.34018. Fisichella Ferrari (B) 1:48.35019. Grosjean Renault (B) 1:48.54420. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes (B) 1:48.792All Timing Unofficial