Two dramatic falls from the high bar in the closing stages of the men's team final saw Japan hand gold to China at the World Gymnastics in Tokyo.
Japanese superstar Kohei Uchimura followed Yusuke Tanaka in falling as the pressure told.
However, Uchimura did enough to earn silver for Japan ahead of the United States - by one-hundredth of a mark.
China's men have now won nine of the last 10 team world titles since the once-dominant Soviet Union disbanded.
But this win - a record-equalling fifth straight success - looked in more doubt than usual as the hosts rose to the challenge inside the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, the venue in which Japan won the men's Olympic title at the 1964 Olympics.
Victory at their home Games crowned a decade of dominance for Japanese men's gymnastics in the 1960s, making legends of names like Yukio Endo and Takashi Ono.
Uchimura, aiming for his third successive individual all-around world title later this week, is in the process of adding his name to that pantheon.
By the time he stepped up to the bar for Japan's last routine of the night, Tanaka's fall had ensured gold for China after an evening of high drama.
That Uchimura should have followed Tanaka off the bar, a specialist piece of his, drew shocked gasps in the auditorium.
The 22-year-old still managed to snatch an element of victory from the jaws of this defeat, sparkling in the remainder of his routine to post a score which rescued silver for Japan by the narrowest of margins.
"It's tough," admitted American gymnast Jonathan Horton as second place eluded his team. Horton was heard bemoaning his own mistake on vault, earlier in the evening, as the tiny margin between silver and bronze became apparent.
"But I can't begin to tell you how proud I am of this team. This is a very young team and we'll continue to get stronger and stronger."
Team-mate John Orozco added: "It's going to be hard for anyone [to beat China at the Olympics] but anything can happen."
China won with a score of 275.161, ahead of Japan's 273.093 and America's 273.083.
A dismal 245.175 from eighth-place Romania will have Britain's men wondering how they failed to qualify for this final.
All the teams competing on Wednesday are safely through to the Olympic Games next year, whereas Britain must now compete at the Olympic test event - at London's O2 Arena in January - and finish in the top four to be sure of a place.
Thursday in Tokyo sees the world's top female gymnasts return to action for their all-around final, judged on performances across all four apparatus - the floor, beam, bars and vault.
Hannah Whelan is Britain's lone entrant in the 24-woman final and, having qualified in 13th place, would need the competition of her life to reach the podium in a field stacked with stars showing their hands for Olympic selection.
Attention is likely to focus on top two qualifiers Victoria Komova of Russia and America's Jordyn Wieber, both 16 and making their senior world championship debuts.
Wieber led the US to gold in Tuesday's women's final, ahead of Russia, as Komova failed to reproduce the form which propelled her into the all-around qualification lead.