Conservatives claimed they have made significant gains across England after sweeping to power in more than a dozen councils.
They seized control in town halls such as Chester, which they had not held since 1986, and saw a net gain across the country of nearly 320 councillors.
But Labour, which saw a net loss of more than 160 councillors, breathed a sigh of relief it did not suffer any major defeats - and held its own in many local authorities.
The Liberal Democrats hailed victories in Hull, Rochdale, Eastbourne and Hinckley and Bosworth, but overall were left with a net loss of nearly 100 council seats.
The Tories took heart after seizing power in councils including Plymouth, North Warwickshire, Gravesham and Dover in Kent, Woking and Waverley in Surrey, North West Leicestershire, South Ribble in Lancashire and Malvern Hills in Worcestershire.
Other results included victories in Windsor and Maidenhead Royal Council, East Riding in Yorkshire, Torbay, Oswestry, Lincoln, Bournemouth, North Somerset, Charnwood in Leicestershire and East Cambridgeshire.
They also became the largest party in Birmingham for the first time in 24 years - holding on to power as part of a coalition with the Lib Dems.
Shadow chancellor George Osborne told the BBC: "No one in the Conservative Party leadership thinks the job is done.
"We know there's much more work to do, but on the basis of this we are extremely confident that we are well placed to do well in a general election."
But Labour Party chairwoman Hazel Blears said the Tories were not making the progress they had expected in the key battlegrounds of northern England.
The deputy leadership candidate told the BBC: "I think you do have to look across the country. Look at Bolton, Bury, Barrow and Crewe.
"Just a couple of days ago David Cameron was saying they had to make gains in Bolton and Bury otherwise they won't be breaking through in the North."
However, Labour did lose overall control in Oldham and Blackburn.
Across England 32.8 million people were able to vote. About 10,500 councillors will be elected across England as a result of Thursday's voting.
Electronic vote counting, which has been piloted by a number of English councils, has been hit by problems however, with some having to abandon the pilot to count votes by hand later.
Almost half of the counts were due to start straight after polls closed, but other authorities delayed their counts until later on Friday - because of a new postal voting system.
Election officers must double check at least 20% (but preferably 100%) of signatures accompanying ballot papers with those on the original applications for a postal vote.
It means a clear picture of the results will be unlikely to be available before Friday afternoon.
In a Lincolnshire council seat, Conservative Christopher Underwood-Frost held on - by winning the toss of a coin.
He had tied with his Lib Dem rival on 781 votes, forcing the spin of a coin to decide the winner.
In Middlesbrough, one of three local authorities electing a mayor, former policeman Ray Mallon - dubbed Robocop for his uncompromising stance on crime - was returned for a second term.
Much of the country experienced warm weather during voting hours, which is traditionally seen as a boost to turnout.
In last year's council elections, turnout across England was about 36%.