Bad light, which forced an early tea, with India, at 282 for nine, still 98 runs shy of their imposing victory target of 380, initially gave the tourists a dramatic reprieve.
The umpires had hoped to re-start the match at 4:40pm local time (1540GMT) but, just as the covers were being removed, rain fell and ended play.
However, it wasn't just the weather alone that saved India.
Wicket-keeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, after several failures by the top order, made an invaluable 76 not out during more than three hours at the crease where he faced 159 balls and struck 10 fours.
He also did a good job of protecting last man Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, who faced just seven balls on his way to four not out, surviving a Monty Panesar lbw appeal in the process, during an unbroken stand of 19.
India, chasing what would be the fourth highest fourth innings winning total in Test history had they achieved it, were 207 for five at lunch.
VVS Laxman was 29 not out and Dhoni, who'd rode his luck, 28 not out.
The pair, the last recognised batsmen, had come together following the loss of two quick wickets that left India struggling at 145 for five.
But a stand worth 86 was ended when debutant quick Chris Tremlett, who took three for 52, bowled Laxman for 39 as he stayed on the backfoot.
England, who now found themselves in a race against the weather, took the new ball as soon as it became available after 80 overs.
And three overs later left-arm quick Ryan Sidebottom dismissed Anil Kumble with the match's 14th lbw, equalling the record for a Test in England.
Dhoni completed his fifth Test fifty, but at the other end Tremlett had Zaheer Khan out for nought, caught behind gloving down the legside.
England captain Michael Vaughan brought himself on to bowl off-spin in a bid to prevent the umpires offering the light.
But it was left-arm spinner Panesar who bowled Rudra Pratap Singh to leave India on the brink of defeat at 263 for nine before the light worsened.
India started the final day on 137 for three. Opener Dinesh Karthik was 56 not out and Sourav Ganguly, dropped on 12, unbeaten on 36.
An overcast sky made conditions helpful for swing bowling and Sidebottom soon had left-hander Ganguly lbw for 40.
James Anderson, recalled for his first home Test since 2004, had taken a Test-best five for 42 as India were bowled out for 201 in their first innings despite England missing injured pace bowlers Stephen Harmison, Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff.
Anderson was again rewarded for his accuracy when Karthik, who'd otherwise cover-driven well during his 60, edged to second slip Paul Collingwood.
Dhoni, on 14, edged Panesar just wide of Collingwood at slip.
He then survived a Panesar lbw appeal on 21 and, on the same score, edged Anderson just short of Andrew Strauss at first slip.
Kevin Pietersen had put England in a strong position by scoring 134 in their second innings 282.
But India stayed in the game thanks to 21-year-old left-arm quick Singh's maiden five-wicket Test of five for 59.
However, before Sunday's stumps, Tremlett had India captain Rahul Dravid lbw for nine and Panesar, in a repeat of his first Test wicket on debut in Nagpur last year, had his boyhood hero Sachin Tendulkar lbw, again for 16.