Cape Town - Graeme Smith made three in his final Test innings and South Africa collapsed to 15 for three at tea on the fourth day of the series-deciding third Test at Newlands on Tuesday.
Chasing a victory target of 511, the hosts lost openers Smith and Alviro Petersen (nine), as well as Dean Elgar (nought) as Australia's bowlers made early inroads into their top-order.
Smith turned a Mitch Johnson delivery looping to Alex Doolan at short leg, an inglorious end for one of the game's greats.
It was a tame way for Smith's 205th test innings to finish but it was in keeping with his poor form in a series in which he has scored just 45 runs in six innings.
The South African captain, who announced his retirement from international cricket late last night, bowed out having made 9,265 runs at an average of 48.25 in 117 tests, 109 of those as captain.
Petersen was lbw to Ryan Harris and Elgar was bowled with the last ball before tea by Johnson.
Hashim Amla (three) and AB de Villiers (zero), whose roles in this South African side as experienced campaigners will be even more important in the absence of Smith, will resume after the interval.
It was all in sharp contrast to the Australia innings, when David Warner made batting look easy as he bludgeoned 145 from 156 balls and the tourists declared their second innings on 303 for five.
It was a second century of the match for the left-hander, who took his runs total in the series to 543 at an average of 91.
Warner received support from Chris Rogers (39) and Steve Smith (36 not out), but was the dominant figure in all his partnerships as he scored nearly half his side's runs.
Kyle Abbott had the most success among the home bowlers with three for 61, including the wicket of Warner, who edged a slower ball to wicketkeeper AB de Villiers. – Reuters