Auckland saved their best performance for last in beating Waikato 26-18 in Hamilton on Saturday, killing off their hosts chances of making the play-offs but granting Hawke's Bay a place in the top four.
The Mooloos knew they needed a bonus-point win to deny the Magpies but despite playing with desperation for the entire match they never looked like securing the win.
With Southland, Hawke's Bay and Wellington all winning their respective games, Auckland were ruled out of semi-finals contention regardless of this final round's outcome.
But it didn't stop them from dashing Waikato's semi-final dreams as they leapfrogged their opponents to finish fifth on the ladder.
In a pulsating match, Auckland and Waikato both scored two tries apiece but it was the boot of Auckland fly-half Ash Moeke that proved the difference as he landed six kicks from seven attempts in a polished performance from the youngster.
Moeke and Waikato captain Callum Bruce traded early penalties before the sin-binning of Auckland flanker Peter Saili ten minutes into the game proved costly as the home side snuck ahead 6-3.
But despite being reduced to 14 men, Auckland hit back immediately as a mistake by Dwayne Sweeney who misjudged a kick was regathered by discarded All Black winger Joe Rokocoko.
The ball was recylced and Benson Stanley then threw a beautiful cut out ball to his midfield partner Jamie Helleur who spotted a massive gap and raced 20 metres to dive over as Auckland took a 10-6 lead.
With Waikato needing a bonus point victory to move into the top four, two tries either side of half-time by the Mooloos got them into a prime position as they went ahead 18-13.
But bullocking prop Charlie Faumuina, drafted in after the loss of All Black John Afoa, finished off a great piece of phase play by the men in blue and white as they regained the lead with a try.
Moeke then capped off the game in style with the two further penalties to stretch the lead out even further that Waikato couldn't get back.
Tries: Lam, Renata
Pens: Bruce 2
Tries: Helleur, Faumuina
Cons: Moeke 2
Pens: Moeke 4
Waikato: 15 Sosene Anesi, 14 Tim Mikkelson, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Callum Bruce (c), 11 Dwayne Sweeney, 10 Trent Renata, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Alex Bradley, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Kent Fife, 5 Toby Lynn, 4 Kevin O'Neill, 3 Nathan White, 2 Aled de Malmanche, 1 Hikairo Forbes.
Replacements: 16 Vern Kamo, 17 Latu Talakai, 18 Romana Graham, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 David Bason, 21 Save Tokula, 22 Henry Speight.
Auckland: 15 Paul Williams, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Benson Stanley (c), 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Atieli Pakalani, 10 Ash Moeke, 9 Taniela Moa, 8 Chris Lowrey, 7 Onosa'i Auva'a, 6 Peter Saili, 5 Andrew van der Heijden, 4 Kurtis Haiu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Tevita Mailau.
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Jay Williams, 19 Hamish Paterson, 20 Auvasa Faleali'i, 21 Gareth Arlidge, 22 Chay Raui.
Referee: Bryce Lawrence