Four tries in the second half secured second place and a home semi-final for the Waratahs with a 31-5 win over the Reds in Sydney.
A drab first 40 minutes saw the only points come from a penalty by Bernard Foley before the champions stepped on the accelarator with half an hour to go to finish with four tries.
Negative performances from both sides in the first 50 or so minutes deserved plenty of criticism, with there seeming to be more interest in a scrap rather than skill while the scrums faltered.
For the Reds this was little surprise after a rough season in which they have only won four games, but for the Waratahs, the defending champions, such a poor first half was completely unacceptable.
On many occasions this season we've seen the Waratahs be their own worst enemy, with their lineout the main culprit this week as they constantly turned over possession.
They now have a week to fine tune that area and the rest of the set-piece and breakdown work ahead of a monster semi-final, although they will take heart from their late finish.
This wasn't the right farewell for James Horwill and Will Genia after years of excellent service for the Reds, and possibly Quade Cooper too, but on the evidence of both this game and the year overall they now have a long way to go to challenge at the top of Super Rugby again. Michael Cheika with his Wallaby coach's hat on will have had little evidence to think over.
Will Skelton's performance was a rare bright spark in the contest early on and he landed a thumping tackle on Genia in the opening ten minutes to set the tone.
Cooper missed the chance for an early penalty when his kick lacked the required direction before Foley's successful attempt after Cooper failed to roll away at the breakdown.
From then on the first half was littered with tackles into touch along with penalties at the scrum and breakdown as the crowd demanded more from the Waratahs with a home semi-final on the line.
Everything finally clicked for the Waratahs after 48 minutes when they kept the ball in hand and made space for their dangerous runners in Foley and Israel Folau to suck in the Reds defenders.
Their long multi-phase attack ended in a yellow card for Reds flanker Adam Thomson for tackling a player off the ball.
All their hard work was rewarded with a try for Dave Dennis after a fine inside ball from Foley to put the Waratahs captain in by the posts for the game's first try.
Michael Cheika will have been a touch concerned about Wycliff Palu's injury after the number eight was withdrawn after half an hour but the Waratahs were 10-0 to the good.
That score only improved after an outstanding run from Folau, beating three tacklers and drawing a total of six Reds players to make the space out wide for Jacques Potgieter to crash over in the corner.
Genia recieved a warm reception from both sets of supporters as he left the field in his final Super Rugby game before joining Stade Français and another Australian scrum-half heading overseas, Brendan McKibbin, was on hand to score the 'Tahs' third try off an inside ball from Foley before stepping Karmichael Hunt to dot down under the sticks.
Dean Mumm, in his first game back in Sydney since re-joining from Exeter Chiefs, wrapped up the bonus point from close range to the delight of his team-mates to add some more gloss to the scoreline as the Waratahs completed a much improved second half.
Cooper then bagged a consolation score for the Reds, his 24th Super Rugby try, after a loose passage of play ended with the fly-half gathering the ball and diving over in the corner.
In the grand scheme however it meant little. It's the Waratahs who are through to the knockout stages and after an up and down season, typified by the difference in their play in each half on Saturday, they are still in contention to retain their title.
Tries: Dennis, Potgieter, McKibbin, Mumm
Cons: Foley 4
Yellow Card: Thomson
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Matt Carraro, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jacques Potgieter, 5 David Dennis (c), 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Mitchell Chapman, 20 Dean Mumm, 21 Stephen Hoiles, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Peter Betham
Reds: 15 James O’Connor, 14 Chris Kuridrani, 13 Karmichael Hunt, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Lachie Turner, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper (c)
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 Pettowa Paraka, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ed O’Donoghue, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 Beau Robinson, 22 Nick Frisby, 23 Ben Tapuai
Referee: Nick Briant
Assistant Referees: Matt O'Brien, Michael Hogan
TMO: Ian Smith