Vote 2012: Welsh Labour retake council strongholds
Welsh Labour is celebrating its best local election results in 16 years after taking control of 10 out of 21 councils in the poll.
First Minister Carwyn Jones said voters were "coming home" to Labour and sending a message to the UK coalition government.
Conservatives and Liberal Democrats blamed losses on a backlash against their colleagues at Westminster.
Plaid Cymru failed to hold onto control of Gwynedd council in its heartlands.
Some 1,200 seats have been contested in 21 of the 22 unitary local authorities in Wales.
Labour celebrated its success with a mini victory parade in Cardiff.
First Minister Carwyn Jones, who was joined by shadow Welsh secretary Peter Hain and other Labour party members, said: "The hard work begins now.
"I think there are three messages from this morning's results.
"There is a message to the UK government, and there is also support for what we are doing as a government in the assembly.
"Here in Cardiff there has been the resounding message from the people that they wanted to see a change in the administration and see us back in power."
He added: "We have reconnected with people and our community campaigning has resonated with voters right across Wales."
Mr Hain, who urged voters to use the elections as a referendum on the Westminster coalition government, said it was very significant that Labour had "taken Tory votes".
"We have won back the Welsh vote from Plaid as well as Tory votes and that's key to winning the general election," said Mr Hain.
"We saw gains right across the city - from Tories, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and from Independents.
"This was replicated right across Wales. We did better than we have done in Wales for a long, long time.
"This was not just a national message to send a message to Cameron and Clegg, this was a grassroots campaign and a new type of refounded Welsh Labour.
"It shows we are well on the way to getting a good result in the next general election."
Results appeared to back up Labour confidence, although the party is coming from a relatively low base after big losses last time Wales' council seats were contested in 2008.
With majorities in Swansea, Newport and Cardiff, Labour has taken its three big target councils in south Wales.
Winning Cardiff, which had been led by the Liberal Democrats, is a big scalp for Labour. The city's Lib Dem leader Rodney Berman also lost his seat.
In the north, Labour failed to win outright control of Wrexham and Flintshire, but made gains to strengthen its position as the biggest party in both.
The party comfortably held Neath Port Talbot, winning 52 out of 64 seats.
Labour sources set their sights on leading or controlling enough councils to take the leadership of the Welsh Local Government Association.
Despite keeping control of the council, Labour lost its leader in Rhondda Council Taf, Russell Roberts. He was one of a number of seats from all parties to lose seats as the political make-up of Welsh authorities changed.
The Welsh Conservatives lost their majority in Monmouthshire, falling three seats short of the 22 they needed to secure outright control.
They also lost control of the Vale of Glamorgan, with Labour now the largest party but without an overall majority.
The Conservatives' leader in the Welsh assembly, Andrew RT Davies, said the Welsh Tories suffered a "setback" because of a "difficult national backdrop".
"The message need to be clearer, it needs to be crisper and people need to know that the job we are trying to undertake isn't something that can be done in the blink of an eyelid," he added.
"I think we have to see a setback, there's no doubt about that.
"Ultimately we tried to fight a local campaign but we have to accept it was a mid-term decision that most people took."
Welsh Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams, whose party suffered heavy losses, said attention had been focused on Westminster politics and that voters had sent the UK government a message.
"I think it's clear that our colleagues in Westminster are taking some tough decisions and the benefits of those tough decisions are yet to be felt," she added.
Plaid Cymru had been playing down expectations of doing well under its new leader Leanne Wood, who was elected in March, saying the elections came too early in her tenure to be seen as a verdict on her.
Plaid had hoped to gain overall control in Gwynedd, one of its heartland areas, but fell one seat short.
However, a by-election in Bryncrug, where no candidates stood, could determine the political make-up of the ruling group.
Before the Gwynedd result was announced, Ms Wood said it was a difficult night and that it was now "time to rebuild".
Speaking to BBC Wales, Plaid AM for Mid and West Wales Simon Thomas said Ms Wood could not be blamed, insisting the party had enjoyed "some successes" but on the whole it had been "a disappointing night".
"But, to be fair, it's a bit like the weather itself, it's mostly drizzle with some outbursts of sunshine and we've got to look for the success I think we will have by the time all the votes are counted," he told BBC Wales.
Mr Thomas admitted Plaid had "tipped down" in Caerphilly after its leader, Allan Pritchard, was ousted and said the party was not as "rigorous or professional" on the ground as it needed to be.
Meanwhile, Mr Hain's office would not be drawn on unconfirmed reports that he would quit after the election.
Asked if the Neath MP intended to stand down, a source close to him said: "Not straight away. We don't want to comment on what might happen when there's a reshuffle."
He added: "There's not going to be a reshuffle today or this weekend. All the reshuffle speculation is on Cameron."
Elections in Anglesey, where ministers have put commissioners in charge after years of political infighting, have been postponed until next year.
- All the latest election results are available at bbc.co.uk/vote2012