Australia overcame a crushing double injury setback to edge out battling Wales 21-18 and take the World Cup's bronze medal prize.
The Wallabies lost fly-half Quade Cooper and full-back Kurtley Beale inside 20 minutes at Eden Park. Cooper could face six months out with suspected knee ligament damage, while Beale appeared to suffer a recurrence of hamstring trouble that sidelined him for last weekend's semi-final defeat against tournament favourites New Zealand.
But they still had enough in the tank to deny Wales a best World Cup finish since they beat Australia to take third place 24 years ago.
Wing Shane Williams marked his final World Cup appearance with a try - albeit a lucky one when a blatant forward pass was missed - and full-back Leigh Halfpenny also touched down.
James Hook and Stephen Jones kicked a penalty apiece, with Jones also converting Halfpenny's score, but the third-place finish Wales coveted eluded them.
Australia manufactured tries by centre Berrick Barnes and number eight Ben McCalman, while Barnes also dropped a goal and wing James O'Connor kicked eight points.
Wales, though, sorely missed suspended skipper Sam Warburton, plus injured pair Rhys Priestland and Adam Jones.
They will return home on Saturday after losing three of their seven World Cup games - by a combined total of five points - but Wales are guaranteed to be a top-four seed for the 2015 tournament hosted by England.
In truth, it was probably a game too far for coach Warren Gatland's heroes as they looked flat throughout much of an error-strewn contest
But they can take so much out of the competition prior to facing Australia in Cardiff on December 3 and then starting a Six Nations campaign that will probably see them installed as title favourites.