The 31-year-old defending champion produced a jump of 17.66m in his penultimate attempt to lift himself from third to second place behind Yoelvis Quesada of Cuba.
A huge effort of concentration on Edwards' part saw him improve on his final jump, but only by three centimetres to 17.69. After seeing the result register on the rotating scoreboard beside the track, Edwards smile ruefully before pacing forwards to embrace the new gold medallist. Quesada won with a second round jump of 17.85, the furthest recorded in the world this year.
It was an obvious disappointment for Edwards, who took silver at last year's Olympics - but also something of a triumph.
A heel injury had prevented him either competing or jumping properly for five weeks before these championships, and he arrived here talking in terms of a "step in the dark". Last night he landed safely to maintain his position as one of the world's leading triple jumpers on a night when the Olympic champion Kenny Harrison failed to progress after the first three rounds.
Before competition began Edwards paced contemplatively back and forth beside the runway as the commentator referred to his world record performance at the previous World Championships in Gothenburg.
Edwards has tried to distance himself from his annus mirabilis of 1995: in the end, it became a mental burden. But he has never been allowed to forget it.
The memory of his competition in last year's Olympics appeared to govern his strategy on his opening jump. In Atlanta, he had fouled his first two attempts but then overcome the prospects of elimination from the final three jumps with 17.13.
Having received the early encouragement of seeing Harrison no-jump on his first effort, Edwards took off well behind the board to get in a mark of 17.33. It represented a guarantee of his continuing involvement.
It was soon to pass, however, by Quesada, who jumped 17.60 before his second round attempt which beat Edwards' world-leading mark of the year by 11 centimetres. Edwards, who ran through his second attempt and only managed 16.80 on his third, slipped back to bronze as Quesada's colleague Aliecer Urrutia recorded 17.64 which was eventually good enough for third place.
Earlier in the day came confirmation that Richard Nerurkar had been forced to pull out of tomorrow's marathon because of a virus infection he had picked up in the last few days.
The 33-year-old had been a realistic medal hope for Britain. He had feared the worst on Thursday night, although he decided to give it an extra day to see if he recovered. But last night the Wolverhampton-born charity worker was forced to give in to the virus and withdraw from tomorrow's race.
"It's really unfortunate, because I felt I was in great shape," Nerurkar said. "Now we'll never know what would have been. Last week I wasn't running normally. In the build-up to a marathon you need to be running easily and relaxed and I wasn't able to do that. I sensed something was wrong and the blood test I had showed an abnormal reading."
The double Olympic champion, Michael Johnson, has pulled out of American's 400 metres relay squad because of the leg cramp which struck him in Tuesday's world 400 metres final. Johnson's agent, Brad Hunt, said Johnson's leg was still sore. "Michael and Clyde Hart [his coach] decided a few days' rest would be best for Michael for the rest of the season."