Liverpool 2 Tottenham Hotspur 0
Liverpool move to within a point of fourth-placed Spurs as Kuyt struck on six minutes and with a stoppage-time penalty to ease the pressure on under-fire manager Rafael Benitez.
However Spurs will rue their inability to convert possession into chances and were left fuming that Defoe's goal soon after the break was disallowed.
Tottenham, searching for the first league win at Anfield since 1993, had the first sight of goal when Gareth Bale's dangerous whipped cross was only just dealt with by Pepe Reina.
But straight from Reina's clearance Liverpool breached the Spurs rearguard for the first time in over ten-and-a-half hours of football.
Centre-back Michael Dawson failed to deal with the first ball allowing Kuyt to exchange passes with Alberto Aquilani before brilliantly sidefooting past Heurelho Gomes from the edge of the area.
Nearly all the remaining first-half action was concentrated in the final moments as Martin Skrtel blazed over from close range before Luka Modric's low shot was kept out by Reina's smart save.
The game's moment of controversy came just after half-time when Defoe, who was coming back from an offside position, dispossessed Reina from Sotirios Kyrgiakos' pass before turning the ball into the net only for the linesman's flag to rule the goal out.
Spurs protested that Defoe had become active but Liverpool nearly doubled their lead moments later as Albert Riera jumped high to head Jamie Carragher's cross against the bar.
Despite being on the back foot for most of the game, Liverpool should have wrapped up the victory as substitute David N'Gog, Kuyt and Kyrgiakos missed simple chances late on.
But when N'Gog was brought down by Sebastien Bassong in the penalty area, Kuyt - at the second time of asking - made no mistake from the spot to raise the roof at Anfield.