Two of the protesters had spent 28 hours in the trees, braving one of the wettest days of the year with only plastic sheeting for protection. But they were eventually coaxed down after other protesters made an abortive attempt to obtain an injunction that might have saved the trees.
Earlier, three of their colleagues had abandoned the trees, two suffering from hypothermia and another having fainted.
More than 150 people gathered at the site in the Golden Hill district of Bristol. They sang laments and chanted 'murderers' and 'shame on you' as contractors with chainsaws started to remove the 89-year-old limes.
There has been a 24-hour vigil at the site for more than 80 days. The campaign to stop Tesco developing in the middle class suburb reached an unusual emotional intensity. One of the opponents is the rector of Horfield, Canon John Wilson, in whose parish Golden Hill lies. 'I think the people who climbed the trees are to be commended. They have shown their concern in a very strong way,' he said.
One protester, Sue Carter, a horticulturist from Bishopston, was defiant to the last, climbing 60ft (18.28m) to the top of the fourth tree as the others were cut down around her. She eventually surrendered, waving a white flag, when a contractor began sawing off the bottom branches. She was later arrested.
Some protesters were angry that the police officers - who numbered about 100 as the demonstration reached its height - had denied those in the trees food and water. But a police spokesman said the demonstrators were breaking the law, being in breach of the Public Order Act 1986.
One of the protesters, Emily Williams, 19, a University of Reading student from Bishopsworth, Bristol, had to be helped down a ladder and was unable to walk. She said: 'I've had no sleep and I'm exhausted.' She survived on biscuits, Kendal mint cake and water.
The opposition to Tesco's development has been led by Ian Martin, a trainee hot air balloon pilot aged 37, who lives opposite the site. 'It is the most worthwhile protest I have ever known and the fight will continue. We will make Tesco wish they had never decided to develop Golden Hill,' he said.
Tesco has tried to win the hearts and minds of local people, who say they will boycott the store. It took a full-page advertisement in a local newspaper and said that the fields had become neglected and were derelict.
Tesco promised that the area would be landscaped using more than 200 trees and 20,000 shrubs and flowers.