The Tories gained control of five councils and an extra 116 seats while Labour lost two councils to no overall control - Cumbria and Warwickshire - and the Liberal Democrats lost three: Devon, Somerset and Dorset.
The seats in most of the 45 English authorities involved were last contested on the same day as the 1997 general election.
Gains for the Conservatives included Dorset, from the Liberal Democrats, and Cheshire and Norfolk, from no overall control.
The party also held Bedfordshire county council where a swing of just 0.1% to Labour would have seen it lose.
There are indications the Conservatives benefited from tactical voting, with people backing Labour in the general election but Tories locally.
Conservative gains in local government in last year's local elections allowed William Hague to claim during his resignation speech earlier on Friday that the forces of Conservatism were stronger than they had been.