Laurent Koscielny's 52nd-minute volley sealed an unconvincing 1-0 for Arsenal at Newcastle, rendering Spurs' 1-0 victory over Sunderland — courtesy of a late screamer from Gareth Bale — meaningless.
"We celebrated a bit like we had won the championship, which was a bit weird considering the ambition at the start of the season," said Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, whose team won eight and drew two of its last 10 games of the campaign.
Chelsea finished third — and claimed the last automatic Champions League spot — by beating Everton 2-1 thanks to Fernando Torres' winner in Rafa Benitez's last game in charge of the Europa League champions.
With the title fight decided a month ago and three relegation spots already settled, the remaining business was bidding farewell to several icons of English football.
Ferguson was treated to a wild match at The Hawthorns in his 1,500th and last game at United, with his team surrendering a 5-2 lead in the final 10 minutes to draw. While United midfielder Paul Scholes, Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher and Stoke striker Michael Owen all played their final games before retiring.
"I have been here a long time and it has to come to an end sometime," said Carragher, who ended his 737-game career with a clean sheet in a 1-0 win over last-place Queens Park Rangers.
There were 36 goals on the final day of the season. None better than Bale's latest match-winner from 35 yards for Tottenham that guaranteed an extremely tense final few minutes in the race for fourth between two fierce north London rivals.
It meant Arsenal needed to hold onto its lead at St. James Park, and when winger Theo Walcott slid a shot against the post in injury time there was still a chance for Newcastle to muster an equalizer. It wasn't to be for Spurs, though, who missed out on the Champions League on the final day for a second season running.
"It was the most nervous I have ever been," Walcott said. "We had to dig deep. No one (outside Arsenal) believed we could do this."
Tottenham was in third place and seven points clear of Arsenal after winning the north London derby in March. But not even Bale's stream of match-winning goals in recent weeks could hold off Arsenal's end-of-season resurgence, just like last season.
"It is difficult to take. In the end we did what we had to, but Arsenal did their job well and go through," Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas said. "It is difficult at this moment."
To make matters worse for Spurs, failing to reach the Champions League will undoubtedly increase the speculation surrounding the future of Bale, who has been linked with many of the world's top teams after a brilliant season in which he won English football's Player of the Year award.
Spurs finished on 72 points — its highest total in the Premier League — but must again play in the Europa League next season.
After the last game of his trophy-filled reign of almost 27 years, Ferguson went over to bow to the United fans who had backed him as he waited until 1990 to win the first of 38 trophies for the club. The Scot brought Scholes on as a 69th-minute substitute for his 718th match, but a second-half hat trick from Romelu Lukaku denied a farewell victory for Ferguson.
"We're a little bit frustrated because we wanted to win it for (Ferguson) and Scholesy," said Javier Hernandez, one of five different scorers for United. "The gaffer is certainly going to remember his last match in charge."
At Stamford Bridge, the jeers that had characterized Benitez's interim reign were absent when he took his place in the Chelsea dugout. Unsurprisingly so, considering the team won the Europa League title four days ago and has qualified for the group stage of the Champions League next season.
"It's been a great experience and I will be sad to leave. It is a pity, as you can see the players are improving — but I will not be here next season" said the unemotional Spaniard, who declined to join his players on a lap of honour. "I have received hundreds of message from Chelsea fans saying thank you."
His rivalry as Liverpool manager with former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho left Benitez a highly unpopular figure among Blues fans. But his success in also steering the team to FA and League Cup semifinals contributed to an air of appreciation in his final match at the London club.
"Thank you Rafa, we forgive you" read a banner from one young supporter.
Second-place Manchester City lost 3-2 at home to Norwich, while Philippe Coutinho's superb first-half strike earned Liverpool victory at Anfield. Carragher hit the post with a 40-yard shot after the break.
Kevin Nolan scored a hat trick in West Ham's 4-2 win over Reading, and Owen rounded off his illustrious career by playing the final 16 minutes for Stoke in a 1-1 draw at Southampton.
"I had one chance and a couple of touches. I was pleased to get out there and say my farewell in one piece," said Owen, whose career is better known for spells with Liverpool, Real Madrid and Man United. "It has been a pleasure to play this game."
Also, Fulham won 3-0 at Swansea and relegated Wigan drew 2-2 at home to Aston Villa.