Bristol's long wait for Premiership rugby is over after they defeated Doncaster 60-40 on aggregate at Ashton Gate to win promotion from the Championship., despite Doncaster winning 34-32 on the night.
After three previous play-off final losses to Exeter, London Welsh and Worcester this triumph was long overdue, ending one of the most painful runs of near misses in recent memory.
The 2015 loss to Worcester was especially traumatic, but Andy Robinson and his squad were all smiles this time around.
They went into Wednesday's game at Ashton Gate holding a 15-point lead on aggregate over Doncaster and that total was heartachingly tested towards the end in front of a Championship record crowd of 16,084.
Now at last Bristol are heading back to the top flight for the first time since 2009. The big-spending club boasted a starting line-up featuring a number of international players, including Samoa's Jack Lam, Anthony Perenise and David Lemi plus Wales lock Ian Evans, and while Doncaster showed plenty of heart, tons of the stuff in fact, they couldn't overcome the deficit.
A cagey opening was punctuated by penalties from Callum Sheedy and Dec Cusack before Bristol edged ahead, Sheedy slotting two more three-pointers to make it 9-3.
Bristol's defence held relatively steady until an explosive carry from Will Hurrell off the lineout saw the excellent inside centre power his way through tackles to score, Cusack converting to put Doncaster ahead for the first time.
The lead though was short-lived. Will Cliff, the sniping Bristol scrum-half, launched himself at a box kick from Michael Heaney, charging it down and winning the race to the ball to score to the home crowd's delight.
Sheedy converted to ensure the score was 16-10 at half-time, with Bristol up 44-23 on aggregate.
Each side were dealt with a significant blow at the start of the second half – Mat Clark having a Doncaster try harshly ruled out by the TMO for obstruction, before Bristol lost Lam to injury.
Sheedy's fourth penalty took the lead out to 19-10 and soon it got worse for Doncaster with a yellow card for prop Richard List, sin-binned as Bristol's scrum grabbed control, Sheedy adding six more points off the tee soon after to twist the knife.
A score out of nothing from Paul Jarvis, wriggling through some dire tackling, was converted by Heaney to give the contest life support, and a yellow card for Ben Mosses gave Bristol another small case of the jitters despite a 23-point lead on aggregate going into the final quarter.
Doncaster then struck. Another try from Tyson Lewis, unconverted by Flockhart, and then one more by Ollie Stedman typified the incredible spirit Doncaster showed throughout, with the gap now just 13 points on aggregate.
James Phillips though had other ideas, his vital score finally guaranteeing victory after an agonising passage of play for Bristol on defence.
To their huge credit Doncaster refused to go quietly, launching one last attack from which Matt Challinor was held up and eventually crossing with a try from Latu Makaafi, but it wasn't to be their night.
Tusi Pisi and Jordan Crane are already signed up and more will now follow. Bristol, at long last, are back in the big time.
Tries: Cliff, Phillips
Cons: Sheedy 2
Pens: Sheedy 6
Yellow Card: Mosses
Tries: Hurrell, Jarvis, Lewis, Stedman, Makaafi
Cons: Cusack, Heaney, Flockhart
Yellow Card: List
Bristol: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Jack Wallace, 13 Jack Tovey, 12 Ben Mosses, 11 David Lemi (c), 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Will Cliff, 8 James Phillips, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Marco Mama, 5 Ben Glynn, 4 Ian Evans, 3 Anthony Perenise, 2 Ross McMillan, 1 Jack O’Connell
Replacements: 16 Chris Brooker, 17 Kyle Traynor, 18 Gaston Cortes, 19 Mark Sorenson, 20 Olly Robinson, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Matthew Morgan
Doncaster: 15 Paul Jarvis, 14 Andy Bulumakau, 13 Mat Clark, 12 Will Hurrell, 11 Tyson Lewis, 10 Dec Cusack, 9 Michael Heaney, 8 Ollie Stedman, 7 Michael Hills (c), 6 Alex Shaw, 5 Jon Phelan, 4 Matt Challinor, 3 Colin Quigley, 2 Ben Hunter, 1 Richard List
Replacements: 16 Vili Veikoso, 17 Joe Sproston, 18 WillGriff John, 19 Glen Young, 20 Latu Makaafi, 21 Dougie Flockhart, 22 Brad Field
Referee: Matthew Carley