New Zealand lost their Tri-Nations title, three wounded players and three of their Test stalwarts at the end of a thrilling night in Sydney. A try from Darren Lockyer, almost two minutes into the second period of "golden point" extra time, gave Australia revenge for their 24-0 defeat in last year's final.
Johnathan Thurston tricked an exhausted defence - weakened by injuries to Steve Matai, Manu Vatuvei and Motu Tony - to buy a dummy. He went into the gap and there was Lockyer, so often the architect of late escapes, on his shoulder.
"I gave the boys the message that seven weeks of hard work [could] come down to the last minute, and that was pretty much proved right," said the Australian coach, Ricky Stuart.
For the Kiwi coach, Brian McClennan, there was nothing but praise for his players at the end of their heady year as unofficial world champions.
"It shows the character in the team that everyone kept fighting, but we were pretty much out of petrol," he said.
The game deserved a memorable try to settle it rather than a drop goal, although that had looked the likely outcome after a Stacey Jones penalty brought New Zealand level with 10 minutes to play. Before and after the end of normal time, the two teams tried a total of six shots at a match-winning drop goal without finding the target. The game then went into sudden death, with Australia proving better equipped to snatch the spoils.
In the first half the two sides swapped early penalties before brilliant Australian handling from Mark Gasnier sent Brent Tate over. New Zealand survived fierce pressure after that, but were only four points behind at half-time thanks to Frank Pritchard's try.
Iosia Soliola brought them level in the second half before goals from Thurston and Jones set up an unforgettable finish.
After the game, Jones, Reuben Wiki and Nigel Vagana all announced their retirement from internationals. "They are irreplaceable," said McClennan. "But what they have done for the Kiwis means the future is good."
Australia: Hunt (Brisbane); Tate (Brisbane), Gasnier (St George-Illawarra), Hodges (Brisbane), Inglis (Melbourne); Lockyer (Brisbane), Thurston (North Queensland); Kite (Manly), Smith (Melbourne), Civoniceva (Brisbane), Hindmarsh (Parramatta), Ryan (Bulldogs), O'Donnell (North Queensland). Substitutes used: O'Meley (Bulldogs), Berrigan (Brisbane), Tupou (Sydney), Mason (Bulldogs).
New Zealand: Webb (NZ Warriors); Hape (Bradford), Soliola (Sydney), Matai (Manly), Vatuvei (NZ Warriors); Vagana (Cronulla), Jones (Catalans); Wiki (NZ Warriors), Halatau (Wests Tigers), Asotasi (Bulldogs), Kidwell (Melbourne), Mannering (NZ Warriors), Fa'alogo (South Sydney). Substitutes used: Tony (Hull), Cayless (Parramatta), Blair (Melbourne), Pritchard (Penrith).
Referee: A Klein (Great Britain).