Vincent Clerc and Maxi Medard touched down to hand France a 16 point lead. England came storming back with tries from Ben Foden and 2005 Lion Mark Cueto but it was not enough as they were sent packing by a resurgent France.
France had scraped into the knockout stages following defeats at the hands of New Zealand and Tonga but they made amends and gained revenge on England for their 2003 and 2007 World Cup defeats.
Lions great and England head coach Martin Johnson now finds himself under pressure while Jonny Wilkinson may have played his last game with the red rose on his chest.
Johnson's men made a bright start but were unable to turn their early pressure into points and Dimitri Yachvili booted France into the lead.
The goal-kicking scrum-half added a second penalty to bring the scores to 6-0 after former Lions tourist Matt Stevens was penalised at the scrum.
And Les Bleus landed a major blow when Clerc danced over for his crucial try. France took advantage of England's malfunctioning lineout and stole possession. The ball was spread to Clerc who waltzed past Wilkinson, Chris Ashton and Ben Foden to make it 11-0.
England continued to shoot themselves in the foot and they grabbed a second try after Louis Deacon conceded a sloppy penalty. Yachvili kicked to the corner and following several phases Alexis Palisson raced down the left and superbly offloaded to Medard for the try.
Foden touched down to hand his side a lifeline with 23 minutes left, Wilkinson added the extras to bring the scores to 16-17.
England came fighting back but were let down by their continued poor discipline and handling. Francois Trin-Duc put the result beyond doubt with a late drop-goal, before Matt Banahan charged through to release Cueto for a late consolation try.