Shane Watson earlier smashed 73 runs off 40 balls for a spectacular century and George Bailey equalled the test record for runs from a single over before Australia declared at 369 for three some 40 minutes before lunch.
Requiring 504 runs for an unlikely victory, England's worst test session for a long time was not over yet and Ryan Harris sensationally bowled Alastair Cook for a golden duck with the first ball of the innings.
After the first break, Cook's fellow opener Michael Carberry continued his habit of getting a start before departing in the 30s and 40s when he was adjudged lbw off the bowling of Watson with 31 runs to his name.
Joe Root had dug in and scored 19 off 88 before he was brilliantly caught behind by Brad Haddin off Mitchell Johnson, leaving Kevin Pietersen (24) and Ian Bell (six) at the crease at tea.
It was the morning of intense drama and some high farce, though, that put Australia on track for a victory that would give them an unassailable 3-0 lead and ensure the return of the Ashes.
The hosts resumed on another sweltering morning at 235 for three and Watson, who started the day on 29, signalled his and his team's intent by smashing two fours and a six off the first over from spinner Graeme Swann.
The big all-rounder reached his fifty with a single off the first ball of the fourth over and took Australia's lead past 400 inside the first 20 minutes of the day.
Watson has the reputation of being unable to convert 50s into centuries but there seemed little doubt he would do it on Monday as three sixes and a four off another Swann over took him from 60 to 82.
England were left ruing their luck when Tim Bresnan caught Watson on 90 only to tumble over the boundary rope and the Australian soon captured his fourth test century when he clipped a four to fine leg.
Watson's departure for 103 was as remarkable as his sparkling innings, which included 11 fours and the five bludgeoned sixes.
Bell waited for an age for a skied ball to come down only to drop it but Watson, not expecting the error, had stopped running and sharp-witted bowler Bresnan ran him out at the non-striker's end.
Despite a string of dropped catches and some schoolboy fielding, England did manage to dismiss Steve Smith (15) and Haddin (five) but Bailey (39 not out) continued to punish the bowling.
And when he blasted his record-equalling 28 off a James Anderson over to take Australia's lead past the 500-mark, captain Michael Clarke called his players in.
Bailey's 4,6,2,4,6,6 matched West Indies great Brian Lara's 4,6,6,4,4,4 off South African Robin Peterson in the Johannesburg test in the 2003-04 season.
The punishment was not over for England, though, and Harris produced a peach of a ball to remove Cook's off bail, the first time the England captain had been dismissed by the first ball he faced in his 100 tests.


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