In failing to get a much-needed fourth try for a bonus point, Wasps saw the Tigers' lead on the standings stretch to nine points.
But they did what they had to do, win an important Premiership game – in the knowledge that they are already out of the running in the Heineken Cup running and have also been knocked out of the Powergen Cup – which means their only route to Europe next year is through the domestic league.
On a very cold day in London, with the temperature dropping to just below zero at kick-off, Wasps well and truly outplayed Gloucester.
The Wasps forwards laid the foundation for the win, out-muscling the Gloucester pack and showing greater skill in recycling the ball.
And behind this dominance Wasps scrum-half Matt Dawson showed the England selectors that his axing from the national team may have been a touch premature – shading his rival for England No.9 shirt, Andy Gomarsall, on the day.
Henry Paul, who's England career has been under scrutiny in recent weeks, had an early chance to put Gloucester in the lead. Wasps No.8 Lawrence Dallaglio held onto the ball in the tackle from a free kick. But Paul failed with the shot from 40 metres out in front of the posts.
The next chance went the way of Wasps, when they took a quick tap from a penalty, but Josh Lewsey lost the ball as he went over the line.
Luckily for the home team the referee had played advantage. This time they set up a line-out, from which they drove their way over, with the try going to flanker Jonny O'Connor. Fullback Mark van Gisbergen added the conversion for a 7-0 lead after as many minutes.
Gloucester soon had another opportunity to open their account and this time Paul made no mistake with a shot from inside 30 metres, to make it 7-3 after 10 minutes.
But Gloucester, under pressure from the home side, gave away another silly penalty two minutes later, through a late charge when fly-half Alex King kicked through. Van Gisbergen kicked the penalty to make it 10-3.
The visitors continued to give away penalties and the referee soon spoke to Gloucester captain Jake Boer about his team's lack of discipline.
Van Gisbergen had a shot midway through the half to stretch his team's lead, but he pulled his shot wide and the visitors could breathe again.
Gloucester's kicker, Paul, was certainly more accurate when he had two opportunities in quick succession to take shots at goal. Paul slotted two penalties, to narrow the gap to 10-9 after 26 minutes, when Wasps lost their cool under pressure.
The home side hit straight back when the Wasps forwards laid the foundation, with a rolling maul of nearly 20 metres, after which Matt Dawson broke to set up a try for Josh Lewsey. Van Gisbergen added the conversion to make it 17-9 after 30 minutes and round off a brilliant piece of play by Wasps.
Paul had another shot at goal from about 40 metres out, in the 39th minute of regulation time, and he made no mistake to narrow the gap once again – 17-12.
Wasps then took the ball through 10 phases, which resulted in the Gloucester defenders going offside in desperation to stop a very threatening move. Van Gisbergen made no mistake with the penalty shot at goal and the home team took a 20-12 lead into the half-time break.
The second half pretty much started the same way as the first ended, with Van Gisbergen having a shot at goal after Gloucester opted for illegal tactics to stop a promising Wasps move. The Wasps fullback, from about 28 metres out, slotted the penalty for an 11-point lead (23-12) at a crucial stage in the game.
But Paul had a shot of his own, within a minute of the restart, after Jonny O'Connor was adjudged to have handled the ball on the ground. Paul brought the lead back inside 10 points when he slotted his fifth penalty – 23-15 after 45 minutes.
The crucial moment in the game came in the 51st minute, when Gloucester centre Henry Paul was sent to the sin bin (yellow card) for repeated infringements – killing the ball on the ground.
Van Gisbergen made no mistake with the resultant penalty and stretched his team's lead back to 11 points – 26-15.
The visitors were reduced to 13 men five minutes later, when prop Christo Bezuidenhout was sin binned for not retreating 10 metres and tackling a player (a professional foul).
Wasps failed to make this big numerical advantage count, despite the forwards going on a 20-metre rampage, which saw them knock the ball on just a few metres out. Paul returned to the playing field with his team still just 11 points down.
But Wasps remained in control as the game moved into the final quarter, with Gloucester continuing to scramble to keep their tryline from being crossed again.
The Cherry-and-White defence wall managed to stand firm for to prevent a try for about 15 metres.
But then the wave after wave of attacks saw second row forward Simon Shaw – waiting out wide – rounding off a brilliant play, going over in the corner. Van Gisbergen added the conversion for a commanding 33-15 lead inside the last 10 minutes.
Wasps then threw everything into attack to get the bonus point – for four tries.
But with just three minutes of regulation time to go replacement James Forrester scored a consolation try for Gloucester, following a shocking pass by Wasps No.8 Lawrence Dallaglio.
The conversion was wide, but it did not matter. The game, as a contest, was over.
Wasps had one last go at the bonus-point try, but the final whistle went without the score coming.
For London Wasps:Tries: O'Connor, Lewsey, ShawCons: Van Gisbergen 3Pens: Van Gisbergen 4
For Gloucester:Try: ForresterPens: Paul 5
Yellow cards: Henry Paul (Gloucester, 51), Christo Bezuidenhout (Gloucester, 56)