Hollande launched Wednesday's debate with an attack on what he said was Sarkozy's record of dividing the French people, France 24 reported. He said if he were elected he would work to unite the citizens and would be a "president for justice."
Sarkozy responded: "Bringing people together -- what a beautiful idea. But it's not just words, it's facts that matter."
The incumbent, who has trailed Hollande in recent polls, said he implemented controversial policies such as pension reforms without huge protests.
The debate covered economic policies, immigration issues and foreign policy initiatives.
Hollande criticized Sarkozy's economic policies during his five years in office, during which time France lost its AAA credit rating and the number of unemployed hit 4 million, France 24 said.
Sarkozy, in turn, criticized Hollande's economic plan that includes a promised 60,000 new civil service jobs, saying such an increase in an already bloated administration would send France's debt soaring.
The two candidates seemed to agree in some areas, such as integrating France's Muslim population, with Hollande saying if he were elected he would "apply the law" banning the wearing of a burqa in public.
Sarkozy reiterated his stance on immigration, calling for a limit on the number of immigrants France accepts, France 24 said.
Borders, he said, isn't a "bad word."