Reading and Queens Park Rangers were relegated with a whimper from the Premier League in a passionless and scrappy 0-0 draw on Sunday that epitomised their dismal seasons and will cost millions of pounds in lost revenue.
Their faint survival hopes were finally extinguished at the Madejski stadium, Reading returning to the second tier after one season back among the elite and QPR needing to regroup after their big-spending gamble, before and during the season, failed to build a team worthy of the top flight.
In the battle for a top four finish, Arsenal were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Manchester United, allowing Chelsea to leapfrog them into third place after they beat Swansea City 2-0.
Arsenal formed a guard of honour before kick-off for the champions but striker Robin van Persie was the centre of attention on his return to his former club.
Van Persie, whose 25 goals have helped fire United to their 20th league title, lived up to the role of pantomime villain.
Jeered throughout by the fans who once adored him, the Dutchman fanned the flames of derision when he lost possession which led to Theo Walcott scoring inside two minutes.
The howls grew louder still when he was shown a yellow card for a clumsy challenge on Per Mertesacker but redemption was offered when he was tripped by Bacary Sagna late in the first half. Van Persie picked himself up to slam home from the penalty spot.
"It takes bottle to take a penalty when the crowd are booing," United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who said referee Phil Dowd apologised to United defender Rio Ferdinand for allowing Walcott's goal when he appeared to have strayed offside, told Sky Sports.
"We have a great spirit of applauding players when they come back to our club. I expected the booing to be honest with you."
United can no longer set a Premier League points record with the most they can get being 94. Chelsea's record is 95 from 2004/05.
With Manchester City set for the runners-up spot, the fight for third and fourth is heading for a nailbiting final week of the season next month.
Chelsea have 65 points from 34 games, Arsenal are on 64 having played one game more and Tottenham Hotspur are on 62, also with a game in hand on their arch rivals.
At the bottom, Reading and QPR have 25 points with three matches to play, seven adrift of third-bottom Wigan Athletic. Aston Villa, one place above the drop zone, have 34 with four games remaining.
The bottom pair were condemned to the drop because Villa play Wigan on the final day of the season on May 19, meaning one of those clubs will get to the 35-point mark which Reading and QPR cannot reach.
"I have told the players to bottle up the feeling as it is never nice to get relegated, and make sure they never feel that way again," Reading manager Nigel Adkins, who replaced the sacked Brian McDermott last month, told BBC Radio 5 Live.
The financial impact of relegation this season from the world's most popular domestic league is estimated to be between 40 million and 50 million pounds, with both missing out on a share of a three billion pounds TV deal for the Premier League starting next season.
Increased parachute payments are unlikely to soften the blow and QPR manager Harry Redknapp said it would be tough to bounce back next season.
"I haven't thought about it [relegation] today really. I thought it was done. A pretty near certainty wasn't it?" he told Sky Sports.
"It's been on the cards since last week. There is a lot of work to be done here. A lot of work to get promoted... make no mistakes about that. There are some good teams in the Championship."
Goals late in the first half from Oscar and Frank Lampard were enough to keep Chelsea on track for the Champions League.
Lampard's penalty took his tally to 201, one short of Bobby Tambling's club record.
Referee Mark Clattenburg took charge of a Chelsea game for the first time since being cleared in November of using racist language towards their midfielder John Obi Mikel.
The referee was cleared after investigations by both London's Metropolitan Police and the English FA found there was no case to answer.
Mikel was an unused substitute on Sunday.comments