Hawkes signed for the Black Cats after his departure from Hartlepool United 18 months ago and had a stunning first campaign in the U23 side, the top scorer as they surged to the Premier League 2 Division 2 play-off final.
First-team opportunities were harder to come by, particularly as his pre-season this time around was affected by a positive COVID-19 test.
Hawkes scored against Port Vale in the Carabao Cup first round before going to Prenton Park on loan, where he quickly became a regular in the starting XI and a fan favourite.
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Recalled due to a COVID outbreak earlier this month he has made just one appearance.
With his contract set to expire this summer Sunderland have sanctioned his departure for an undisclosed fee, with the 22-year-old signing a two-and-a-half year deal.
The arrival of Patrick Roberts had added further competition for places on Wearside, with winger Jack Clarke also potentially arriving from Tottenham Hotspur on loan in the near future.
After sealing his move Hawkes took to social media to reflect on his Wearside career and to pay tribute to the Sunderland supporters.
"I am proud and privileged to have had the opportunity to represent Sunderland," Hawkes wrote.
"I learned so much playing in such a professional environment with the U23's and it was an honour to have played with the first team.
"Scoring against Port Vale was a real highlight for me and my only regret is that I didn't play more games.
"I want to thank everybody at the club especially Kristjaan [Speakman] and the gaffer [Lee Johnson] for the dignified way I have been allowed to leave to pursue my career.
"The fans were always brilliant with me and I hope that they can see their club return to the top where they deserve to be.
"Thank you, Josh."
Hawkes has already made 17 appearances for Tranmere this season, scoring two goals.
They currently sit second in the League Two table, and face league leaders Forest Green on home turf this weekend.