Denmark's Tom Kristensen created Le Mans history with a record-equalling sixth victory on Sunday.
Kristensen claimed his fifth straight win in the event
Kristensen emerged on top from a titanic duel to equal Jacky Ickx's record and become the first man ever to win the race five times in succession.
Japanese team-mate Seiji Ara took the chequered flag after an entire day of racing, with Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello celebrating in the pits.
Johnny Herbert's Audi UK team had to settle for second place.
"I am part of a great team," Kristensen said. "I've been in Japan for a while now and this is huge for Japan.
"We had luck this time but we worked hard for it," he added. "It is a team effort."
An English victory on French soil looked on the cards for a long time.
But Herbert - and co-drivers Guy Smith and Jamie Davies - fell just short at the last.
Essex driver Herbert and Yorkshireman Smith have won previously at Le Mans but for Yeovil-born Davies the result was a heartbreaking miss.
There was just 41.264 seconds between the English trio and their Goh Audi rivals after 379 laps, over 5,000km.
The third-placed Champion Audi of Emanuele Pirro, JJ Lehto and Marco Werner was 11 laps down after 24 hours - the equivalent of around 35 minutes.
Herbert, Smith and Davies led as night fell on Saturday but a suspension change combined with a crash and a stop-go penalty allowed the Japanese team to take the advantage.
The English trio gradually clawed back time on Sunday, helped by a flash fire for the Goh Audi in the pits.
Herbert took a philosophical view after finishing in second place for the third year in a row.
"Having finished second for the last two years I was determined to add to my 1991 win," said Herbert.
"It was looking good and we had a one-lap lead but the handling deteriorated and we fell in to the clutches of the Japanese Audi.
"That's motorsport - sometimes the luck doesn't go with with you."