Danny Cipriani marked his first England start since 2008 in style and Owen Farrell also starred as England avoided a whitewash in South Africa with a 25-10 win in the third and final Test in Cape Town.
Defeats in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein saw England miss out on the chance to claim a first series win in South Africa and piled pressure on head coach Eddie Jones.
Wet conditions in Cape Town sent some members of the pre-match entertainment flying to the turf on Saturday and unsurprisingly did not lead to aesthetically pleasing rugby.
Yet England earned a degree of comfort from a disappointing series thanks to 20 points from the boot of Farrell and an excellent kick from Cipriani, which found Jonny May for their only try - effectively deciding the contest - as the tourists ended a five-Test losing streak.
Elton Jantjies missed an early penalty for South Africa and, by the time he did find his range from the tee, it only served to halve the hosts' deficit at the interval, Farrell having knocked over two three-pointers of his own in the opening period.
Farrell restored England's six-point lead four minutes after the restart before Schalk Brits was brought off the bench for his return from international retirement, bringing energy to a Newlands crowd that had further reason to cheer when Warrick Gelant produced a rare moment of precision.
Gelant's excellent grubber sent Jesse Kriel in for the game's first try, and when Jantjies converted England would have feared a repeat after letting leads slip in each of the first two Tests.
However, two further Farrell penalties nudged them into a five-point lead and, with time running out for the Springboks, Cipriani produced a moment of magic.
Cipriani was tackled as he launched a kick cross-field, but the ball spiralled perfectly into the far corner of the in-goal area, and May turned on the jets to dot down.
Farrell converted and then added gloss with the sixth penalty of a talismanic display, as England ground out a deserved triumph that Jones will hope brings an end to his toughest period since taking charge.