England today collapsed to 169 all out as South Africa wrapped up an innings and 74 run victory at The Wanderers to share the four-Test series.
The tourists, who had needed only a draw in Johannesburg to pull off an improbable 1-0 success, were instead beaten just before lunch on the fourth day.
Morne Morkel (four for 59) was the man who at last ensured South Africa would land the 'knockout blow' their captain Graeme Smith had been craving, taking three wickets for no runs in seven balls to put paid to England's apparent decision to pin all hopes of survival on an ambitious counter-attack.
Paul Collingwood (71), England's top runscorer of the series, was the impetus behind an unlikely and short-lived bid for glory today.
Collingwood finished with another half-century, laden with 10 fours from only 65 balls.
Support, however, was in short supply.
Twice England have clung on for draws in this epic series. But after starting a cloudy morning 195 runs behind with only seven second-innings wickets left, it was clear this time Collingwood was going to try to wrest the momentum back rather than block out time.
He took on the short ball from Morkel and Dale Steyn with a series of upper-cuts and hooks.
His adventure was a startling contrast with the near strokeless policy which saw him bat 66 overs for 40 to salvage the third Test in Cape Town.
In the final Test, he reached the same number of runs from only 44 balls, compared to the 188 he ate up at Newlands.
Kevin Pietersen, though, is going through an almighty struggle to even approach his best form.
He did not score a run until the fifth full over of the day - even then it was only a single to fine-leg off Morkel - and Collingwood had made 32 to his partner's three in the session when Pietersen chased an attempted wide drive on the up off Wayne Parnell and edged behind.
Collingwood's attacking intent extended to an unwise second run after a fend-off into the leg-side off Steyn, from which a direct hit would have run Ian Bell out for nought.
Collingwood survived a decision review system appeal for lbw from the first ball of Morkel's second spell from the Corlett Drive End, and another close call when Parnell swung one into his pads too.
But Bell fell to a fine delivery from Morkel, edging high to second slip.
Then Matt Prior made a second-ball duck, mis-hooking a lobbed catch to Smith running back from slip behind the wicketkeeper, having survived a half-chance to short-leg, off the face of the bat, from his first delivery.
A DRS review proved Stuart Broad had, in fact, gloved Morkel behind down the leg-side after initially being given not out by Steve Davis.
Graeme Swann survived once in a typically breezy 20, Ashwell Prince unable to complete a diving catch in the gully off Morkel, before Steyn instead had him edging into the slips.
But even allowing for Collingwood, whose defiance included hitting Steyn for six over long-off, the end was nigh.
When Collingwood pulled the first ball of JP Duminy's one-over spell to be caught at deep square-leg, it was an anti-climactic conclusion for the Durham all rounder.
The series finished similarly when Duminy took the last wicket, Ryan Sidebottom bowled slog-sweeping as England folded in fewer than 43 overs.