Andy Robinson's men were punished for a shambolic first-half performance and never recovered from Florian Fritz's opening try after 43 seconds.
Dimitri Yachvili, who finished with 16 points, booted France into a 16-3 lead before Damien Traille and Christophe Dominici rounded off the victory with second-half tries.
It was England's seventh defeat in 14 Six Nations games since the World Cup and they must now beat Ireland next weekend and rely on France losing in Wales to stand any chance of winning the title.
But on the evidence of this weekend - Wales drew 18-18 with Italy - it is highly unlikely.
England's preparations were disrupted by a late illness to Matt Dawson, who was only passed fit to start minutes before kick-off.
England made an atrocious start. Josh Lewsey and Mark Cueto both mis-judged an up-and-under from Frederic Michalak and Fritz enjoyed a clear run to score his first try for France.
England were all over the place, making careless mistakes, skewing clearances, dropping balls and conceding penalties which Yachvili gladly stroked over to open France a 16-0 lead.
Yachvili is England's nemesis - he had scored 37 of France's 42 points in the previous two games against the world champions.
England had to wait 28 minutes for their first attack of any real purpose but it ended when Charlie Hodgson hit the post with a straightforward penalty.
It was not until two minutes before the interval that England finally made their first incursion into the French 22 with half-breaks from Dawson and Lewis Moody.
Hodgson finally booted England onto the scoreboard after France were penalised at a lineout - but it was almost more than they deserved from a dismal 40-minute display.
Hodgson, who had gone down with a leg injury just before the interval, was replaced by Leicester's Andy Goode whose first real act was to boot a penalty for England soon after the restart.
Apart from one Michalak surge out of French territory, England were a more organised unit after the break but were creating nothing of any consequence.
Robinson rang the changes around the hour mark, moving Lewsey into the centre at the expense of Mike Tindall and introducing Harry Ellis, Tom Voyce, Lawrence Dallaglio, Lee Mears and Andrew Sheridan.
England could still find no attacking spark and instead blundered again, allowing France in for their second try after 67 minutes.
Cueto and Ellis chased down a grubber kick through but allowed the ball to squeeze out the side, presenting Traille with the simple task of touching it down to score.
Yachvili's conversion hit the post but he soon made amends with another penalty to set up France's biggest win in this fixture since 1986.
Dominici rounded off the scoring in the last minute with a try after intercepting Goode's pass.