The former England striker was named as captain for his first appearance since agreeing to join the Championship club as a January signing on an 18-month deal back in August.
Manchester United and England’s record goalscorer had been training, coaching and sitting in the dugout at matches for several weeks, but Thursday night was the first time he had been eligible to play following his departure from Major League Soccer side DC United.
The 34-year-old, included at the expense of the suspended Krystian Bielik in the only change made by Derby boss Phillip Cocu, played the full match, despite it being his first competitive game since October.
He set up the opening goal for Jack Marriott and was involved in Derby’s second goal, providing a pin-point diagonal pass, either side of Elliot Simoes scoring an equaliser for Barnsley.
Rooney’s debut coincided with Cocu’s team winning back-to-back matches for the first time this season, having also beaten Charlton 2-1 at Pride Park on Monday, but they remain 17th in the table.
While all the pre-match talk had understandably been about Rooney, the night itself was threatening to be remembered for a series of missed chances by Marriott.
The striker spurned a handful of good opportunities before finally getting his name on the score sheet in the final minute of the first half.
Marriott then wasted two one-on-one chances. The first was saved by Samuel Radlinger, while the second saw Marriott rush his attempt to lob the goalkeeper from outside the penalty area, steering his effort harmlessly wide.
A brave block by Lowe to repel Andersen’s goal-bound shot saw Barnsley go close once more.
Marriott made amends for his earlier misses by scoring the opening goal just before half-time.
Rooney’s superb inswinging delivery from a free-kick out on the left was touched home by Marriott with his shin from eight yards out.
Radlinger kept Barnsley in the match at the beginning of the second half with a brilliant save to push Matt Clarke’s header on to a post with his fingertips.
It was an important stop as shortly afterwards Simoes knocked in a rebound to equalise from close range after Hamer had spilled Conor Chaplin’s initial shot.
Rooney’s big moment arrived in the 52nd minute but he mistimed his header from inside the six-yard box and the ball bobbled harmlessly wide off his shoulder.
However, he had a hand in the goal that restored Derby’s lead after 57 minutes with a pin-point diagonal pass to switch play to Andre Wisdom, whose low cross was turned home by Waghorn.
Waghorn could have given Derby some breathing space midway through the second half but dragged his shot into the side-netting.
Derby dropped deep late on as they defended their slender lead, but Barnsley were largely kept at arm’s length and an effort from outside the area from Chaplin that was well saved by Hamer was the closest the visitors came to ruining Rooney’s night.