Nehwal's victory handed India second place in the medals table
England were beaten to second place in the Commonwealth Games medals table by India at the very last opportunity as the 2010 Games in Delhi closed.
Saina Nehwal's badminton victory handed India their 38th gold medal, one more than England's tally of 37, as English badminton players lost three finals.
Australia topped the medals table at a canter, winning 74 gold medals.
Scotland's nine golds placed them 10th, Northern Ireland's three boxing titles earned them 13th, and Wales came 15th.
Both England and India had three more strong chances to add further gold medals to their tallies on Thursday, as the race for second place went down to the wire.
Highs and lows for Indian athletes
Once India had lost the men's hockey final - defeated 8-0 by Australia - the remaining gold medal possibilities for the two nations lay at the Delhi badminton court, where Malaysians played a vital role in shaping the medals table.
English duo Nathan Robertson and Jenny Wallwork lost to Malaysia's Koo Kien Keat and Chin Eei Hui in the mixed doubles final, before English number one male singles star, Rajiv Ouseph, was defeated in that event by Malaysian defending champion Lee Chong Wei.
India's Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Machimanda won the women's doubles badminton title, which drew the host nation level with England at 37 golds apiece, while Robertson and Anthony Clark missed another gold medal when they lost to Koo and Malaysian men's doubles partner Tan Boon Heong.
In the final action of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Nehwal overcame another Malaysian in her women's singles final - coming from behind to defeat Wong Mew Choo 19-21 23-21 21-13 - and, with that, India reached 38 gold medals and second place.
Had Nehwal lost her final, England would have taken second place by virtue of silver medals, of which the English had 59 to India's 27.
COMMONWEALTH MEDALS TABLE
Gold medals and total medals won:
1. Australia 74 gold, 177 overall
2. India 38, 101
3. England 37, 142
4. Canada 26, 75
5. South Africa 12, 33
10. Scotland 9, 26
13. Northern Ireland 3, 10
15. Wales 2, 19
"We thought that India, with home Games advantage, would be significantly ahead of us, and we're proud of the fact that we have got to the wire with them," said Craig Hunter, Team England's chef de mission.
"Our medal tally here is higher than it was in Melbourne 2006, although it's difficult to do like-by-like comparisons because sports are different.
"But there's no doubt our team has been enormously successful, and to be third on the table is exactly where we wanted to be.
"We have missed some of our stars who haven't come out, but I think that's not what it's about, it's about those who did come out here and achieve."
The hosts finish the 2010 Commonwealth Games with 101 medals overall while England garnered 142, 35 behind leaders Australia.
Scotland's competitors contributed 10 silver and seven bronze medals to their overall tally of 26, with Scottish gold-medal successes including the mixed doubles tennis, several shooting titles and David Millar's cycling time trial gold.
England's badminton players could only win silver medals
Northern Irish boxers Paddy Barnes, Paddy Gallacher and Eamonn O'Kane were solely responsible for their country's 13th-place finish after each won gold in the ring on Wednesday.
Their compatriots added three silver and four bronze medals to the tally, enough to propel Northern Ireland above Samoa, who also won three golds.
Northern Ireland would have placed 12th but for Chrystalleni Trikomiti, who moved Cyprus above them in the table with victory in rhythmic gymnastics' ribbon event on Thursday, the Cypriots' fourth gold of the Games.
Wales won a total of 19 medals, including two gold, seven silver and 10 bronze.
Welsh competitors won two Commonwealth titles, lawn bowler Robert Weale's gold medal on the penultimate day of the Games adding to Dai Greene's 400m hurdles win.
The Isle of Man placed 31st - tied with Tonga and Mauritius - having won two bronze medals.
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