England appeared to be taking the fast track to Ashes whitewash as they stumbled to 87 for three in notional pursuit of a world-record 448 to win at the SCG.
After Chris Rogers completed his second century in successive matches in Australia's 276 all out, England had half a Test to try to improve by almost 100 runs on their previous best total of a sorry series.
By tea on day three, their prospects had become that bit bleaker and a 5-0 trouncing - for the second time in three tours - seemed inevitable.
Alastair Cook's miserable campaign concluded when he fenced at a rapid short ball from Mitchell Johnson, and edged behind, before Ian Bell - up to number three at last - followed a promising start by guiding a cut at Ryan Harris straight to gully.
When Kevin Pietersen then fell to a looping catch over the head of short-leg after an inside-edge on to his thigh at Harris, a familiar England slide was surely under way.
Opener Michael Carberry suggested a modicum of resistance, however, still unbeaten at tea, on 43 in company with debutant Gary Ballance - with a huge task facing them on a pitch which has favoured ball over bat throughout.
Rogers earlier took the respective century count this winter to an astonishing 10-1 in Australia's favour when he cut part-time off-spinner Pietersen for his 14th four.
George Bailey fell four short of a second Test half-century, in a stand of 109 with Rogers.
His departure, caught at deep square-leg off Stuart Broad, merely gave Brad Haddin an opportunity to try to pass 50 for the seventh time in the series.
He soon made it clear he was in a hurry to do so as well.
But his eyes lit up a little too much when he spotted a Scott Borthwick full toss, and under-edged the slog-sweep to be bowled off-stump and fall seven runs short of a 500 series aggregate.
Johnson was then bowled round his legs, trying to manufacture another scoring opportunity off Ben Stokes, and after lunch Rogers chipped a catch back to Borthwick (three for 33) to go for a career-best 119.
The young leg-spinner also had Harris caught at deep midwicket, and finally Boyd Rankin got his maiden Test wicket when Peter Siddle attempted to hook a bouncer but was caught-behind to be last out.
That was minor consolation for the giant Ulsterman, after a nightmare debut to that point, but it was hard to see any hint of redemption for his new team.