Nottingham - Robin Peterson took three wickets as England collapsed to 182 all out in the fifth and final one-day international at Trent Bridge on Wednesday.
Left-arm spinner Peterson, enterprisingly given the new ball by Proteas captain AB de Villiers, finished with figures of three for 37 from 10 overs as South Africa looked to level the series at 2-2.
Fast bowler Dale Steyn, a more familiar new-ball operator, took two for 24 in nine with six of South Africa's seven bowlers among the wickets.
Only England captain Alastair Cook (51), who won the toss on a sunlit afternoon, and wicketkeeper Craig Kieswetter (33) made more than 29 amongst a top six without the injured Jonathan Trott.
Recalled paceman Chris Woakes was a career-best 33 not out.
Peterson removed Ian Bell, playing down the wrong line, lbw for 10 with the opener wasting England's lone review on a plumb decision.
Ravi Bopara, promoted up the order in Trott's absence despite a run of low scores, was then caught behind by wicket-keeper de Villiers off Steyn for his second nought in four innings.
England were now 24 for two and, not for the first time in his brief international career Jonathan Bairstow, in for Trott, who had his hand broken by Steyn during England's six-wicket win at Lord's on Sunday, came in with his side in dire straits.
Bairstow survived a tough chance to De Villiers on 10, and together with Cook shared a third-wicket stand of 55.
But he fell for 29 when a well-timed clip off fast bowler Morné Morkel flew straight to Justin Ontong at deep square leg.
Left-hander Eoin Morgan then exited for a duck when he mistimed a drive off spinner JP Duminy to Hashim Amla at mid-on.
Meanwhile Cook completed a 69-ball fifty with six fours.
But just when England needed him to press on Cook fell in soft fashion when he chipped a low return catch off a full toss to Faf du Plessis, the fourth spinner used.
Kieswetter then holed out off Morkel's slower ball.
Peterson dismissed James Tredwell and James Anderson, going for a needlessly ambitious drive, with successive deliveries.
Jade Dernbach survived the hat-trick, although he was soon out as the innings ended with 28 balls remaining.
England 182 (Alastair Cook 51, Chris Woakes 33 not out, Craig Kiewsetter 33; Robin Peterson 3-37, Dale Steyn 2-24).