Andrew Flintoff made the crucial breakthrough as England regained the Ashes with a 197-run victory on an emotional day at the Oval.
England all-rounder Flintoff, featuring in his 79th and final Test, had the telling impact on the npower series decider in an unusual manner as he ran out Australia captain Ricky Ponting in mid-afternoon.
It was the pivotal moment of the fourth day and perhaps the entire match, for it came with Ponting well set on 66, alongside Michael Hussey, who was eventually last out for a defiant 121.
The last time England took on Australia on this ground four years ago, it was a marathon Flintoff bowling spell either side of lunch on the fourth day which halted the tourists in their tracks after openers Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden struck hundreds.
Today third-wicket pair Ponting and Hussey had shared 127 runs, when Flintoff, now retired from Tests having revenged the 5-0 drubbing on his captaincy watch in 2006-07, made his mark.
Australia had appeared to be challenging probability during a 40-over period of high-class batting which began in difficult circumstances this morning after two early wickets.
Ponting had been in ominous mood, during more than two and a half hours at the crease, and was intent it seemed on driving the series finale into a fifth day.
But his departure opened up an end for England to attack and euphoric celebrations reminiscent of 2005 began at 5.48pm when Hussey was taken at short leg off Graeme Swann.
Both left-hander Hussey and Ponting were culpable in the latter's dismissal.
Hussey struck a full delivery from Steve Harmison, operating from the pavilion end, to mid-on and called for a single, Flintoff seized on the opportunity and Ponting paid for initial ball-watching as a side-arm throw spectacularly found its target at the batsman's end.
Flintoff's arms were thrown skywards and his team-mates rushed to mob him, certain of Ponting's fate before third umpire Peter Hartley confirmed it.
The noise levels had barely died down when another run out, via a less clear-cut television decision, resulted in the dismissal of Australia vice-captain Michael Clarke five minutes later.
An attempted turn to leg off spinner Graeme Swann cannoned off the boot of Alastair Cook at short leg and was flicked onto the stumps by Andrew Strauss, as Clarke groped for the crease with his bat.
After various examinations of the replay, Hartley somewhat contentiously decided from the one clear angle available that the toe of Clarke's bat had not breached the other side of the line and therefore gave him out.
Having not previously effected a run out in the series, two in five balls had opened up the chance of a four-day finish.
With England in the ascendancy for a 45-minute period, they claimed another success but this time Hartley was not required as Marcus North lunged down the pitch to sweep and failed to adjust his back boot as wicketkeeper Matt Prior whipped off the bails.
It provided Swann with his first success of the match from the Vauxhall end.
He went on to claim two more, with Brad Haddin paying for his audacious attempt to hit over the top just as he and Hussey had swung the momentum back Australia's way for the evening.
Strauss, who was later named England's man of the series, had positioned himself perfectly at deep midwicket to take the catch after backpedalling into position.
That terminated a stand of 91 for the sixth wicket and allowed England a chance at the Australian tail with the second new ball.
Durham fast bowler Steve Harmison seized on his opportunity immediately as Mitchell Johnson sliced to second slip where Paul Collingwood, who had flirted with a couple of low chances at slip off Swann either side of lunch, clutched it to his right.
Peter Siddle and Stuart Clark perished in consecutive balls to give Harmison three quick wickets and put him on a hat-trick, which Ben Hilfenhaus averted.
But the glut of quick wickets followed the theme of the day.
England's rapid double strike on the fourth morning provided a perfect start in defence of an improbable 546-run Australia victory target.
Australia openers Simon Katich and Shane Watson both went lbw, in the space of four balls inside the opening 20 minutes.
With crease occupation a necessity for Australia, they started positively yesterday evening with an unbeaten opening stand of 80 but were breached in both the fourth and fifth overs of the day.
Left-hander Katich was first to go, pushing forward and playing no shot at a Swann delivery which would have gone on to hit the top of middle-stump.
His departure brought Australia captain Ponting to the crease - and in place of the boos from the home support which have accompanied him throughout the summer, this time there was a minute-long standing ovation.
Australia had doubtless held high hopes of at least making England work for their wickets, in glorious batting conditions - albeit on a dusty pitch which has had its critics.
But four balls after Katich left the scene, Watson was treading the same path to the pavilion - pinned in front by Stuart Broad on the back foot.
Watson appeared to suggest some inside edge had been involved but television replays showed Pakistani umpire Asad Rauf had called correctly and that the ball struck bat after pad.
It was the sixth and final success for man-of-the-match Broad, whose bowling effort on day two set up victory in the must-win match.
Fittingly, his Nottinghamshire colleague Swann finished the job in his sixth spell of the day when Hussey jabbed to Alastair Cook.
It sparked wild celebrations and condemned Ponting to the history books as only the second Australian captain after Billy Murdoch, in the 19th century, to lose two Ashes series on English soil.