Victor David Cameron returns in triumph to Downing Street
David Cameron has vowed to govern for the whole of the United Kingdom as he returned to No 10 at the head of a majority Conservative government, while the Scottish Nationalists virtually swept the board north of the border.
In a stunning election night for the Tories, the Prime Minister confounded the pollsters and pundits who had predicted another hung parliament, delivering the party's first overall majority since 1992.
The result was a crushing blow for Labour leader Ed Miliband - who saw his hopes of entering No10 shattered - and for Nick Clegg who was left with a rump of just eight Liberal Democrats in the new parliament.
The two men declared within minutes of each other that they would be stepping down as leaders of their respective parties, with Labour deputy Harriet Harman taking over as acting leader with immediate effect.
Ukip's Nigel Farage also fell on his sword after failing in his bid to secure a Westminster seat in South Thanet, only to say that he could stand again for the leadership in September.
In a night which will go down as one of the biggest general election shocks of the post-war era, there was a string of big-name fallers - including Labour's Ed Balls and the Lib Dems' Vince Cable - while an SNP "tsunami" saw them take all but three Scottish seats.
The news that the Conservatives had the 326 they needed for an outright majority finally came as Mr Cameron was attending an audience with the Queen at Buckingham Palace to confirm his second term as Prime Minister.
On his return to Downing Street, he indicated a determination to build bridges after a bruising five-week campaign in which the Tories were accused of jeopardising the Union by playing the "English nationalist" card.
Speaking on the steps of No 10, he said he would press ahead with the further Scottish devolution promised by the Westminster parties during independence referendum campaign "as fast as I can".
"As we conduct this vital work we must ensure that we bring our country together. We will govern as a party of one nation, one United Kingdom," he said.
"It means bringing together the different nations of our United Kingdom. I have always believed in governing with respect.
"In this parliament I will stay true to my word and implement as fast as I can the devolution that all parties agreed for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland."
The Prime Minister - who can look forward to the prospect of governing with a slender Com mons majority after five years buttressed by his Lib Dem coalition partners - also reaffirmed his commitment to an in/out referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union.
The final result saw the Conservatives take 331 seats, with 232 for Labour, 56 for the SNP, eight for the Lib Dems and just one each for Ukip and the Greens.
An emotional Mr Miliband apologised to supporters after seeing his hopes of Government destroyed as Labour was blown away in Scotland by the nationalists' landslide while struggling to take any seats from the Conservatives.
"I am truly sorry that I didn't succeed. I have done my best for five years. Now you need to show your responsibility. Your responsibility not simply to mourn our defeat, but to pick ourselves up and continue the fight," he said.
Mr Clegg, who also announced his resignation, said he believed history would judge his party's time in Government "kindly" while issuing a stark warning of the potentially "disastrous" legacy of a highly divisive election campaign. "This now brings our country to a very perilous point in our history where grievance and fear combine to drive our different communities apart," he said.
"It's no exaggeration to say that in the absence of strong and statesman-like leadership, Britain's place in Europe and the world and the continued existence of our United Kingdom itself is now in grave jeopardy."
While Mr Cameron was announcing his new Cabinet, Labour and the Liberal Democrats face the prospect of lengthy and potentially bruising leadership contests.
Ms Harman said that she would take up the reins as stand-in leader until a permanent successor was in place, at which point she would step down as deputy as well.