Rain led to the loss of 63 overs and left Essex frustrated in their push to secure a sixth win of the LV= County Championship Division Two campaign as Kent took the game into its final day at Canterbury.
Only 34 overs were bowled in the scheduled middle session at Canterbury, just enough for the promotion-chasing visitors to grab four precious wickets including a quickfire haul of 3-24 by Monty Panesar.
The upshot was Kent ending 56 runs in arrears on 113 for four, still in a perilous position.
After heavy overnight rain had led to a delayed start at 12:40pm, Kent resumed on eight without loss having been dismissed for 107 on day two and made to follow on 169 runs behind.
With the floodlights again in use throughout a murky afternoon, the home openers had their concentration shattered by a further brief delay for drizzle and Rob Key became their first casualty soon after.
The former skipper, propping forward in defence to Reece Topley, allowed the ball to squeeze through bat and pad and trickle back onto leg stump for 17.
Sam Northeast moved to his fifth half-century of the season from 91 balls, but Panesar - in only his fourth appearance for Essex since his loan move from Sussex - got one to grip and take the shoulder of Daniel Bell-Drummond's bat for a looping catch to gully.
Brendan Nash turned his first delivery into the hands of leg slip to depart without scoring and, though Ben Harmison survived the hat-trick ball, he soon departed leg before for eight when playing back and across the line to Panesar.
Northeast remained resolute, only for rain to strike once more – much to the dismay of Essex.