Luis Suarez's double booked Uruguay's place in the World Cup quarter-finals as South Korea's adventure came to a heartbreaking end.
The Asian side looked to have turned the game around when Bolton midfielder Lee Chung-yong cancelled out Suarez's early strike with 68 minutes gone.
But amid a wintry downpour at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, the Ajax striker curled home a brilliant winner 10 minutes from time to confirm Oscar Tabarez's side as the first team to reach the last eight.
Uruguay were the better side before the break and deserved their half-time lead, but they had to survive a major fightback as Korea refused to give up on their dream, and Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera had to make a vital late save from substitute Lee Dong-gook to ensure the tie did not go to extra-time.
Tight games are often decided by fine margins, and that point will not have been lost on either coach within eight minutes of kick-off.
Had Park Cho-young's fifth-minute free-kick come off the inside, rather than the outside of the post with Muslera helpless, the ball might have ended up in the back of the net and Korea would have been in front.
But it did not, and three minutes later with South Korea keeper Jung Sung-ryong fatally reconsidering his decision to come for Diego Forlan's teasing low cross when it was too late to do so, Suarez expertly steered the ball into the gaping net from a tight angle to double the dose for the Asian side.
In a half of few clear-cut chances, neither Muslera nor Jung had another save of any real note to make, although the Uruguay man was grateful to see two speculative late efforts from full-back Cha du-ri sail just over his crossbar.
South Korea, as their coach Huh Jung-moo had promised, played their usual attacking game, and Park Chu-young, as he has been throughout the competition to date, and skipper Park Ji-sung caused problems.
However, Uruguay, with Forlan prompting from just behind the front two, had just that little bit more guile going forward and were streetwise enough at the back - they went in at the break still to concede a goal in South Africa - to ensure they largely held sway.
South Korea returned knowing their World Cup was drawing to a close unless they could find a way back into the game, and they resumed with some intent.
Kim Jae-sung only just failed to connect with full-back Lee Young-pyo's cross after it had been dummied by Park Chu-young, and the striker himself blasted over with 51 minutes gone when he might have done better.
The equaliser came with 68 minutes gone after substitute Mauricio Victorino could only half-clear a free-kick and Lee Chung-yong headed home the loose ball with Muslera and defender Diego Lugano flat-footed.
Uruguay's response was swift and Jung had to turn away Suarez's 73rd-minute shot, and it was he who won the game with 10 minutes remaining when, after a Forlan corner had been headed out, he picked up possession on the left and curled home a superb shot off the inside of the upright.