Graeme Swann's maiden ODI five-wicket haul ensured England avoided the humiliation of becoming the first side to lose a one-day series 7-0 with a four-wicket win over Australia on Sunday.
World champions Australia still clinched the series 6-1, but surrendered their recently-regained status as the leading one-day side.
The Riverside win did little to paper over the cracks in England's line-up as Andrew Strauss's side head for South Africa and the Champions Trophy which starts on Tuesday.
Although James Anderson and debutant Graham Onions set the tone with some disciplined new-ball bowling, in complete contrast to the visitors' ragged efforts, Swann proved the match-winner on an unusually spin-friendly pitch.
Yet despite bowling Australia out for 176, the lowest score of the series and posting a 106-run opening stand, England managed to make a meal of chasing the total, losing four wickets in five overs and six in all.
"It's a bit of a relief to be honest," said England skipper Andrew Strauss. "We're not going to get carried away with it because we still lost the series 6-1, but it was a good bowling performance.
"If you bowl them out for 176, you'd back yourself to chase that just about every time. We still made heavier weather of it than we should have done, but it's a win and something to move forward with. "I didn't allow myself to think the unthinkable (a 7-0 defeat) because I thought surely it couldn't happen.