Isinbayeva was looking to become the first woman to win three gold medals in the same individual event at three successive Olympics. She left with sighs of relief, blowing kisses to the 80,000 crowd as if a weight finally fell of her shoulders.
"It is like a gold medal for me," Isinbayeva said. "This bronze tells me 'Elena, don't quit,' as I planned to quit after London."
The gold went to American Jenn Suhr and Cuba's Yarisley Silva took the silver.
What Russia missed in the pole vault, it made up for when Yuliya Zaripova won the 3,000-meter steeplechase in the fourth-fastest time in history.
About 300 kilometres (200 miles) northwest of the main Olympic venue, the U.S. women's football team beat Canada 4-3 in extra time in a stadium in the city of Manchester.
The two-time defending Olympic champions — who have played in the gold medal match in every Summer Games since women's football was introduced in Atlanta in 1996 — will play Japan on Thursday for the title. The final at Wembley Stadium will be a rematch of last year's World Cup final, won by Japan on penalty kicks.
Back in London, 19-year-old Kirani James of Grenada became the first non-U.S. runner to run the 400-meter race in less than 44 seconds, and added the Olympic title to his world championship gold. He also was the first non-U.S. winner of the race since 1980.
In a moment of intense emotion, Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic sobbed uncontrollably on the victory podium as he was awarded a second Olympic gold for the 400-meter hurdles. His first one was in Athens in 2004.
The day was not without its scandals.
Defending Olympic 50-kilometre race walk champion Alex Schwazer has been caught doping and will miss the race in London.
His agent, Gloria Mancini, said in a telephone interview that Schwazer's entourage was surprised and upset by the revelations.
"Especially since he has always condemned doping in the strongest terms," Mancini said. But "we don't live with the athlete, and we are not guard dogs."
American judo competitor Nicholas Delpopolo was expelled from the Olympics after testing positive for cannabis
In good news for the host country earlier, Jason Kenny gave Britain its fifth gold medal at the London Velodrome by outclassing world champion Gregory Bauge in the final of the men's sprint, track cycling's marquee event.
Kenny, who had never beaten Bauge before, justified the British team's decision to enter him in the event instead of defending champion Chris Hoy by beating Bauge 2-0 in the best-of-three final.
Britain beat the Netherlands in a jumpoff for the gold medal in team show jumping, the host side's first gold medal in the discipline in 60 years. Saudi Arabia took bronze.
Three members of Britain's four-man team — Nick Skelton, Ben Maher and Peter Charles — rode clear rounds in the jumpoff to give the host team the victory.
Aliya Mustafina gave Russia its first gold medal in gymnastics in London while Brazil and Australia — finally — each won their second golds overall at the London Olympics.
Just 18 months after seriously injuring her knee and putting her chances for London at risk, Mustafina won the title on uneven bars Monday. It gave the 2010 world champion a full set of medals, following her silver in the team competition and bronze in the all-around.
Brazil's first gold medal came in judo on July 28, Australia's first in swimming on the same day. Nine days later, they have their second.
Arthur Zanetti preceded Mustafina on the gold podium at the gymnastics venue, beating the "Lord of the Rings'" — defending champion Chen Yibing of China — in the still rings. It was only Chen's second loss in six years and gave Brazil its first-ever gymnastics gold at an Olympics.
"I was the last gymnast to compete and I stayed calm and took my moment," said Zanetti.
Far from London on the English Channel, Australian sailor Tom Slingsby gave the team from Down Under gold No. 2.
Slingsby won the men's sailing Laser class at Weymouth, England.
Australia, having one of its worst games, hoped to finish among the top five in gold and overall medals. But until Monday, it had only a women's relay win in the swimming pool on the first full day of competition.
Pavlos Kontides, who finished second to Slingsby, made some history of his own, winning the first-ever Olympic medal for Cyprus. Xu Lijia won gold in the women's race in the same class.
In the morning, world champion Sally Pearson of Australia set the early standard in the women's 100-meter hurdles, clocking the fastest first-round time in the event in Olympic history.
Pearson posted a time of 12.57 seconds to qualify for the semifinals, with the final scheduled for Tuesday night at the Olympic Stadium.