Shane Warne was the man again, topscoring with the bat and then grabbing the big wicket of skipper Andrew Flintoff just before stumps on Thursday.
The tourists let slip another opportunity as the Australians surged to a 102-run innings lead and then bowled themselves into a winning position by the end of the third day.
At the close, England were 114 for five and facing likely defeat on Friday's fourth day with remaining batting hope Kevin Pietersen not out on 29 and nightwatchman Monty Panesar yet to score.
England were sickened minutes before stumps when Flintoff was out stumped off Warne for seven after adjudication by the video umpire in a tight decision.
Warne earlier blasted 71 off 65 balls as Australia gorged on 205 runs on the third day after resuming from an overnight 188 for four to finish on 393 and again frustrate England's efforts.
England were under pressure from the third over of their second innings with Alastair Cook out for four, top-edging a pull shot off Brett Lee to Adam Gilchrist.
Two balls later Andrew Strauss was struck with a thudding blow on the side of his helmet from a short-pitched Lee delivery, but continued on. He was subsequently cleared by hospital scans.
Strauss completed a poor series when he fell leg before wicket to Stuart Clark for 24 to finish with 247 runs and a series average of 24.7.
Ian Bell's concentration lapsed after 85 minutes when he flashed at a Lee delivery well outside off-stump to be caught behind for 28.
Paul Collingwood was caught by a diving Matthew Hayden in the gully off Clark for 17 and Flintoff continued the tourists' woes with his late dismissal.
Earlier, Warne thrilled the crowd in his farewell Test with an exhilarating knock, which only ended when he was stumped by Chris Read off spinner Panesar.
Warne was rapturously acclaimed after he crashed nine fours and two sixes to lift Australia into a powerful position to complete the first Ashes series whitewash in 86 years.
Warne had immediately declared his intentions with a four and a six over mid-wicket off Panesar and looked at one stage as though he might achieve his elusive Test century only to go down with all guns blazing.
Two umpiring decisions marred the opening session with Adam Gilchrist, in full cry, given out by umpire Billy Bowden for 62.
Bowden's howler was roundly booed by the Australian supporters in the capacity SCG crowd after television replays showed that Gilchrist's bat had missed a wide delivery from James Anderson before wicket-keeper Read appealed for a catch.
England may have felt the Bowden blunder partly made up for the other umpire Aleem Dar not giving Warne out on 10, caught behind off Panesar.
Panesar whooped down the pitch to celebrate, but umpire Dar was unmoved. Replays appeared to show that Warne had gloved the ball to Read.
Yet again Australia's tail wagged furiously as England failed to deliver the knockout blow and the last four wickets added 133 runs.
Gilchrist and Warne put on 58 runs off just 44 balls, while Warne and Stuart Clark added 68 off 72 balls in partnerships containing some sizzling hitting.
Symonds was dismissed within sight of his half-century attempting to slog spinner Panesar, who tossed one up and bowled his off-stump for 48.
Mike Hussey was out in the second over of the day, beaten by Anderson's swing and movement off the pitch, to be caught behind on his overnight score of 37.
Read finished with six dismissals for the innings, replicating his performance in Australia's only innings in Melbourne, making it 12 dismissals since he replaced Geraint Jones for last week's fourth Test.