After making two attempts to clear a height - at 2.35, and then 2.37 - Smith came to a halt on his run-up and fouled out on his third effort - also at 2.37 - before limping away to contemplate the damage.
"I just wanted to give it my best shot," said Smith, who had aggravated his injury in qualifying. "It was either that or go home, and I wasn't going to go home. I'll be back for the Sydney Olympics."
Brighter news arrived for Britain soon after Smith's departure, however, when Colin Jackson's main rival for the 110m hurdles title, Mark Crear of the United States, dropped out of contention for tomorrow's final when he was disqualified for false-starting twice in the second of his two heats.
"It's a scandalous decision," Crear said. "My agent will be appealing."
Jackson, recording 13.20 and 13.22 for two wins, qualified handsomely, as did Britain's other world record holder Jonathan Edwards, who reached today's triple jump final with a jump of 17.28m, the second furthest of the day.
The day had begun gloomily for the British team with the news that Chris Rawlinson, who moved to third in the world lists with his 400m hurdles victory in Zurich two weeks ago, had had to pull out after exacerbating an ankle injury. The additional information that Paula Radcliffe, a strong title contender for Thursday's 10,000m final, was carrying a "niggle" after straining a hamstring while practising her sprinting.
Smith's challenge risked another, serious injury on the British list. He had to hope his right take-off leg, which he injured in his last training session before leaving for Britain's pre-championship holding camp in Portugal, would hold out.
Grant had advised his perennial rival before the competition in his role here as non-playing captain, and he knew what he was talking about. At the last World Championships, he did the same thing at 2.32 - unprecedented until Smith's effort last night - cleared it, and missed out on a medal by just one place.
Only six of the original 13 entrants remained by the time Smith made his first attempt, having paced restlessly about the high jump apron, swigging drink and stretching his leg, for an hour and a quarter.
But the great adventure was soon over for a man who, just over a year ago, injured his neck so badly that even his mobility was in jeopardy.
Vyacheslav Voronin of Russia said that his confidence grew as soon as he saw Smith, who leads this season's world list with 2.36, was injured. 'I knew then the gold was possible,' he said. He was right - a jump of 2.37m earned him the title.
Marion Jones's plans to win four gold medals at these championships was jolted out of course in a controversial long jump final which saw her take bronze behind home jumper Niurka Montalvo, a naturalised Cuban, who snatched the lead from former champion Fiona May with a last round effort of 7.06m which appeared perilously close to being a foul jump. An Italian appeal was turned down.
Christopher Koskei, the Kenyan at the centre of an ongoing IAAF investigation into colluding to allow his compatriot, Bernard Barmasi, to win the Zurich Weltklasse meeting, won a thrilling race to take the world 3,000m steeplechase title. As he pulled away from his team-mate Wilson Boit Kipketer over the final 30 metres, he brandished his fist in premature celebration - a la Steve Ovett.
The IAAF announce the result of their investigation the day after the championships...
In the circumstances, Koskei's subsequent comment - "We had a pre-race plan. By that of course I mean all four Kenyans were to work together as a team until 200m from the finish" - might have been better judged.
Denise Lewis put her past injury problems behind her to compete here but was left yesterday surveying the wreckage of her world title bid. The heptathlete finished in the runner-up spot for the second successive World Championships when she was beaten by 137 points by France's Eunice Barber on Sunday.
Lewis finished just 12 points short of her Commonwealth record, but was left to rue disappointing displays in the 100m hurdles - the opening event - and javelin that cost her any chance of the title.
"It was the same story for me in the hurdles in Athens and Atlanta," said Lewis, of previous championship disappointments. "That is something I will have to look in to."