Payet played chief tormentor at the Stade de France as he set up Olivier Giroud for the opening goal after the break and then curled a superb left-footer into the top corner of the net with one minute left after Bogdan Stancu had equalised for Romania.
After dominating their opponents in the warm-up friendlies, Didier Deschamps‘ team failed to ignite in the first half of their first competitive match for two years.
They looked set for a draw in the opening match of the tournament until Payet took the ball on the right flank, cut inside and struck a venemous drive to send the crowd into raptures.
The West Ham United midfielder, who was not even certain of a place in the France squad a few months ago, walked off the pitch in tears and was given an ovation by the crowd after delivering a world-class performance.
“Romania made it difficult for us and it took us time to get into the game especially as there was a lot of emotion,” said Payet.
“To be here tonight and score is the result of a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifices. I wouldn’t have thought at the start of the season that I’d be here, there was some pressure on arriving at the stadium but I came to enjoy myself.”
France made a shaky start with keeper Hugo Lloris saving well from Stancu at the far post in the fourth minute.
A reaction finally came in the 11th minute when Giroud’s header from a Payet cross went just wide.
Lacking the speed and goal instinct that helped them net 13 times in their four previous matches, Les Bleus were a pale shadow of the side who breezed past their recent opponents.