A Welsh World Cup campaign that held so much promise a week ago ended in disappointment as Australia won the third-place play-off.
A try and drop-goal from Berrick Barnes and eight points from the boot of James O'Connor left Wales with fourth place despite a try from Shane Williams in possibly his last Test appearance.
In an error-ridden contest short on quality and atmosphere, Wales failed to replicate their devastating attacking form of earlier in the tournament.
A succession of handling errors gifted the Wallabies the initiative, and Leigh Halfpenny's try in the 83rd minute came too late to deny Robbie Deans' men.
While the result gives Australia revenge for Wales' victory in the corresponding game in the inaugural World Cup 24 years ago, a serious knee injury to fly-half Quade Cooper left their celebrations muted.
And while Eden Park was virtually full, there was the unmistakeable whiff of anti-climax about the night, the minds of both players and supporters on Sunday's final and what might have been.
Wales will reflect that they lost three matches at this World Cup by a combined total of five points, with a host of missed kicks costing them dear in the final analysis.
Australia's hopes suffered an early blow when full-back Kurtley Beale limped off with a recurrence of his hamstring injury, but after Williams was clattered into touch by the right corner-flag the Wallabies struck with pace and precision.
Will Genia took quick ball from the back of an attacking scrum and fed Cooper, whose sweetly-timed flat pass put Barnes through the hole between Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts and under the posts.
O'Connor converted for 7-0, only for a fumble from David Pocock off a poor pass to set up a Welsh scrum in front of the Australian sticks. When referee Wayne Barnes called the Wallaby front row for collapsing, James Hook eased over the resultant penalty.
With Australia looking for another gap deep in Welsh territory, Cooper then went down in a heap after his right knee appeared to buckle. He was carried off the pitch, clearly in great pain, his nightmarish World Cup coming to an end with an injury later confirmed as torn anterior cruciate ligaments.
O'Connor hit the right upright with a long-distance penalty attempt after prop Paul James was mangled at a scrum, and the game entered a scrappy phase with both sides spilling possession in contact and under the high ball.
Halfpenny pushed a penalty of his own wide to the right before Davies opted for a grubber with space outside him and put the ball into touch.
The errors continued after the interval as Hook somehow hooked a straightforward penalty from 25 metres out and O'Connor kicked the ball out on the full after taking it back inside his own 22.
But even without suspended skipper Sam Warburton, Wales were beginning to dominate the breakdown, and when Wallaby possession was burgled on halfway a clever kick ahead from Mike Phillips allowed Hook to gather behind the defensive line.
His pass out wide appeared to be both forward and short of Williams, but the old stager booted the ball onwards on the volley and kicked past the covering run of O'Connor before gathering and flopping over the line for his 58th Test try and an 8-7 lead.
Hook again missed his place kick, albeit from way out left, and O'Connor snatched back the lead with a brace of penalties as the Welsh forwards failed to roll away at the breakdown.
Barnes then lofted over a drop-goal from distance for a 16-8 lead with 15 minutes left, replacement Stephen Jones reducing the deficit to five points with a drilled penalty from 35m.
A glorious piece of counter-attacking rugby from the Wallabies' back line appeared to have made the game safe, Genia releasing Adam Ashley-Cooper to run from deep, the winger combining beautifully with O'Connor to cut through the Welsh defence until George North's desperate tackle on the try-line stripped the ball from Ashley-Cooper's grasp.
It was a brief stay of execution. Another handling error in the Welsh midfield allowed the Wallaby forwards to batter their way towards the try-line, and Ben McCalman took advantage of a disorganised defence to rumble over in the left-hand corner to seal victory.
Wales had the last word after a series of 30 controlled phases saw Bradley Davies put Halfpenny over in the left corner, Jones converting, but it brought little consolation.
Wales: L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies, J Roberts, S Williams; J Hook, M Phillips; G Jenkins (capt), H Bennett, P James, L Charteris, B Davies, D Lydiate, T Faletau, R Jones.
Replacements: L Burns (for Bennett, 70), R Bevington (for James, 64), AW Jones (for Charteris, 53), A Powell (for Lydiate, 64), L Williams (for Phillips, 64), S Jones (temp for North, 33-37, for Hook, 50), S Williams (for J Davies, 70).
Australia: K Beale; J O'Connor, A Ashley-Cooper, B Barnes, D Ioane; Q Cooper, W Genia; J Slipper, T Polota Nau, S Ma'afu, J Horwill (capt), N Sharpe, S Higginbotham, D Pocock, B McCalman.
Replacements: S Faingaa (for Polota Nau, 52), B Alexander (for Ma'afu, 59), R Simmons (for Sharpe, 46), R Samo (temp for Higginbotham, 30-33), L Burgess (for Genia, 67), A Faingaa (for Cooper, 20), R Horne (for Beale, 10).
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)