Australia lost 9-65 during an astonishing final session on day four at Port Elizabeth as a Dale Steyn-inspired South Africa won by 231 runs to square the three-Test series at 1-1.
Hashim Amla brought up his 21st Test century and finished on 127 not out when South Africa declared their second innings at 270 for five, setting Australia 448 for victory.
The improbable appeared possible when the tourists had David Warner at the crease, the opener scoring a typically belligerent 66 as part of a 126-run stand with Chris Rogers – who would go on to compile a magnificent hundred while no other Australian batsman managed to reach double figures.
Warner’s dismissal, lbw to JP Duminy, meant just two wickets had fallen during the day’s first two sessions. There was little indication of the carnage to follow, although Australia’s loss of momentum in Warner’s absence would prove crucial
Alex Doolan's painstaking innings of five was finally ended after 43 balls when he edged Morne Morkel to Graeme Smith at first slip, while Vernon Philander ensured Shaun Marsh followed up his first-Test century with a pair.
Then it became the Steyn show – Australia captain Michael Clarke edging low to Faf du Plessis at slip before Steven Smith was pinned plumb in front first ball.
Brad Haddin kept out the hat-trick delivery but, as in the first innings, he would have his middle stump brutally ripped out by the rampant South Africa paceman.
Rogers survived an lbw review and a pair of fours off Dean Elgar helped him to three figures.
It would be the last thing worth remembering about the match from an Australian standpoint as DRS lbw calls went against Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris – Philander and Steyn respective the beneficiaries.
Rogers' valiant innings finally ended on 107 when he was run out, substitute fielder Alviro Petersen's throw from mid-off brushing the stumps and dislodging the bails slowly enough that several replays were needed.
And when Nathan Lyon was given lbw despite edging Elgar's slow left-arm delivery, with no reviews remaining, it was 216 all out.
South African jubilance was mixed with relief as heavy rain is forecast for tomorrow.
Steyn led the way with 4-55, while Johnson and Harris, amazingly, shared the innings' third-highest score of six.