It was too little, too late for Rafael Benitez even as he finally notched a win at Chelsea but was powerless to stop them becoming the first Champions League holders to crash out of the competition before Christmas.
The fact Fernando Torres ended his goal drought in what was an expected romp against FC Nordsjaelland was also scant consolation for Benitez and the European champions, who were consigned to the Europa League after Juventus won at Shakhtar Donetsk to top Group E.
Torres even scored twice after David Luiz put Chelsea ahead from the spot at the end of a crazy spell of three penalties for handball in seven minutes that saw both Nicolai Stokholm and Eden Hazard miss.
Joshua John did make it 2-1 but Gary Cahill, Juan Mata and substitute Oscar ensured the holders at least bowed out with their biggest ever Champions League victory and ended their six-match winless streak, three of which were overseen by Benitez.
Chelsea fans' reaction to their interim manager during games has already become a cliche, but amid the customary jeers, abuse and protest banners tonight were newer placards declaring, 'Bring Back The Special One'.
It is debatable whether even Jose Mourinho could manage Torres back to his best, the striker appearing fully aware tonight's game represented his best chance of ending his latest drought.
Indeed, the first half-hour was almost all about the Spaniard's quest, whose job against the Group E whipping boys got even easier when Nordsjaelland centre-back Ivan Runje was carried off injured inside five minutes.
Already without their best defender, the Danish champions almost conceded when down to 10 men but Jesper Hansen held Victor Moses' crisp near-post volley from an Ashley Cole cross on the full-back's 100th Champions League appearance.
Mikel Beckmann joined the fray before Torres had the ball in the net, chipping Hansen having already been flagged offside.
He saw another effort saved before at least backing up Benitez's assertion that he was "amazing" at defending corners when one of his clearances set up a lightning break Hazard could not finish.
Hazard threatened again with one of several jinking runs before Torres failed to react to Moses' drilled cross, poked another one-two with Mata straight at Hansen, and fell over attempting an overhead kick.
Nordsjaelland captain Stokholm almost showed him the way when he smashed Moses' cross against his own crossbar before the visitors tried their luck at the right end through Kasper Lorentzen and Enoch Adu.
Their adventure was dramatically rewarded in the 31st minute when referee Bas Nijhuis adjudged Cahill to have handled Anders Christiansen's shot on the edge of the area.
Chelsea protested but it did not matter as Petr Cech guessed right to keep out Stokholm's penalty.
After Torres' latest weak finish was deflected wide, Cahill got his revenge when his header from the resulting corner hit the arm of Beckmann.
Incredibly, Hazard's weak penalty was also saved.
Even more incredibly, Nijhuis awarded a third spot-kick for handball moments later when Patrick Mtiliga blocked Mata's shot.
This time, Luiz took charge, firing the ball high into the net.
The Torres show then resumed with an errant diving header before he finally found the net in stoppage time.
There were echoes of his last - lucky - goal against Shakhtar as his finish from Moses' ball in behind hit Hansen and rebounded back off the striker, who accidentally trod on the keeper before gobbling up the rebound.
Torres' strike was cancelled out straight after half-time when John got in behind Branislav Ivanovic to lift Lorentzen's ball over the advancing Cech.
But Cahill restored the advantage five minutes later when he hung in the air to loop a superb header into the corner of the net from Mata's free-kick.
Five minutes after that, Torres finally scored a goal that owed nothing to luck, brilliantly finishing off a sweeping break by poking in Hazard's cutback.
Any joy was tempered by the news Juve had taken the lead in Donetsk - in defiance of the "Come on Shakhtar" chants from Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea continued to attack and Torres was denied a penalty before Mata beat Hansen at the second attempt after a one-two with Hazard.
Torres had two penalty appeals turned down either side of Oscar entering the fray to finish smartly after being played through by Mata for his fifth Champions League goal in six games.
Luiz picked up a booking for a foul on Nordsjaelland substitute Kamal Issah to earn a one-match ban.
He had already gone close with a free-kick, Oscar saw another shot saved, Moses shanked a header and Torres failed to chip Hansen for his hat-trick but it was goals elsewhere Chelsea and Benitez needed.