England refused to let their highly-successful 2012 one-day international campaign end with a whimper at Trent Bridge.
After a string of batsmen had contributed to their own downfall with regrettable shots in England's 182 all out on a perfectly-viable surface, it seemed a 2-2 draw was much more likely.
But South Africa's reply was almost immediately minus Graeme Smith and Faf du Plessis, the opener caught by a juggling James Tredwell at second slip off Jade Dernbach and the out-of-form number three edging to the wicketkeeper off a rampant James Anderson, and the visitors were 14 for three in the fifth over after Anderson also took out Dean Elgar.
But the new-ball wickets brought opener Hamish Amla and captain AB de Villiers together early - and after 15 overs the tourists' most accomplished batsmen had guided the reply to a more reassuring 67 without further loss.
Earlier, only captain Alastair Cook (51) and Chris Woakes had done themselves any justice with the bat for England.
The hosts lost their first two wickets for the addition of one run, in the fourth and fifth overs, after choosing to bat on a glorious afternoon for this day-night fixture. They made an encouraging start until Ian Bell missed a delivery that came on with the arm from Robin Peterson (three wickets for 37 runs) and was lbw pushing forward, Kumar Dharmasena's decision confirmed after the batsman invoked DRS.
Ravi Bopara, pushed up to number three in the absence of the injured Jonathan Trott, is enduring a nightmare run of form and his troubles continued when Dale Steyn pitched a delivery in the ideal place, and found just enough movement for Bopara to be caught-behind for single figures for the third successive time in this series.
New batsman Jonny Bairstow - called up for his first one-day international cap since last October - fared well in a 55-run stand with Cook, until he became the first of three successive batsmen to fall to catches chipped unerringly straight into fielders' hands. Bairstow picked out deep square-leg off Morne Morkel; Eoin Morgan hit his second delivery, from JP Duminy, to mid-on - where Amla had just been brought up five yards, to save the single.
Then Cook lost his famed concentration against Du Plessis' part-time leg-spin and pushed a low full-toss back for a routine return catch. Craig Kieswetter mistimed an attempted big hit off Morkel and skied a catch to Amla again at mid-off.
After the wicketkeeper-batsman had gone in powerplay, following back Nottinghamshire's own Samit Patel - who gloved a slower-ball bouncer from Steyn behind - England began what should have been the last 10 overs on an unpromising 165 for seven. But the tail then folded to Peterson, who took two wickets in two balls - and not even Woakes' career-best 33 not out could salvage much worthwhile before Dernbach was last out in just 45.2 overs.