Alrighty follow up time:
I got the manifold off and turns out it wasn't a cracked manifold (that I can see with shields grinded off) at all. It was a blown gasket on the outside edges of the cylinders. My local mechanic sucks. Anyways...
I had ordered the Dorman 674-939 manifold kit from Amazon already so I decided just to put it on. I got the bolts off the manifold/head without having to replace a stud so that was nice. I used some penetrating oil and let it set for a while. I only used a 3/8 normal ratchet. The O2 sensor would not come out so I had to hit it with MAPP gas to get it out. Luckily it did not damage it. I used a 7/8 O2 socket for that. The flange bolts/springs on the bottom came out easily since they were just replaced by the previous ******* mechanic to the tune of $150. The holes for the engine block mount on the dorman DO NOT LINE UP and you have to only use one of the two bolt holes provided on the manifold itself. There is only one bolt on the engine block hanger part. The crappy Dorman donut gasket also would not even go on the manifold so I reused the OEM one I had bought previously. Also the manifold gasket was all bent up so I had to go by the Felpro from autozone for like 12 bucks. The OEM part number for a 2008 Vibe (non-AWD) is 171040D040 if you wanna buy it from Toyota or 88969034 if you wanna buy it from GM.
What this repair has cost me:
$30 for original felpro gasket (when first mechanic said it was manifold after looking at it for 5 minutes including installing the gasket)
$15 Toyota OEM donut on eBay
$96 labor for replacement of toyota OEM donut. (second mechanic)
$24 for follow up inspection of bearings and motor mounts to verify noise was exhaust (second mechanic)
$150 for replacement of flange springs/bolts and ANOTHER new GM OEM gasket from dealer. Second mechanic who SWORE it was the springs not holding tension. This mechanic then told me it was the manifold and said they had to use a camera to see the smoke.... ha.
$118 for Dorman 674-939 "kit"
$12 for felpro manifold head gasket
$200 for labor and use of friend's lift. He cut off the heat shield for me and did most of the arm wrenching work. I cannot get under a car for long anymore because I get panic attacks (srs).
So I paid $645 for what was just likely a bad $12 gasket. I could have took it to the dealer for $700 and had it done on day 1. It's possible the donut was bad too but I don't trust the first or second mechanic at all. I am going to have my friend do all my future major repairs because I just have bad luck with finding a smart mechanic. I'll take a friend (who is actually ASE+) over a business any day....
Images of gasket and hole that would not line up: