The 30-year-old Jamaican, who finished third in the individual 100m, was hoping to finish his last show with a big number – an historic 12 World Championships gold medals.
But the final images which the world saw of the most successful male athlete in the 34-year history of the championships were of a sprinter lying on the home straight holding his left leg in pain.
Medical staff brought a wheelchair on to the track but Bolt limped away for medical treatment, instead of enjoying what he hoped would be a long and memorable final lap of honour.
Jamaica’s team doctor said later that Bolt had suffered cramp in his hamstring. It was a bitter disappointment for the many Jamaican fans in the crowd but home supporters were able to celebrate a surprise victory from Great Britain who held off the Americans in a tight finish to the race.
CJ Ujah, Adam Gemili, Danny Talbot and Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake clocked 37.47 to take the gold ahead of the USA and bronze medallists Japan.
The penultimate night of action was billed as a night of celebratory farewells. But Britain’s Mo Farah’s hopes of finishing his track career with a fifth consecutive global golden double in the 5000 and 10,000m were also dashed by 23-year-old Ethiopian Muktar Edris.
Farah, the 10,000m champion, struggled to live with the pace of Edris and his compatriot Yomif Kejelcha in the last lap of the 5000 final. The 34-year-old Briton tried to sprint through on the inside in the final metres but had to settle for silver as former world junior champion Edris won in 13:32.79. American Paul Kipkemoi Chelimo took the bronze ahead of Kejelcha.
Farah is now going to turn his attention to marathon running.
“It’s been amazing. It’s been a long journey but it's been incredible,” he said. “They had the game plan. One of them was going to sacrifice themselves. That's what they did tonight, and the better man won on the day. I gave it all, I didn't have a single bit left at the end.”
Allyson Felix increased her gold tally to 10 when the Americans, anchored by individual 100m champion Tori Bowie, won the women’s sprint relay in 41.82 seconds ahead of Great Britain and bronze medallists Jamaica. Felix is now the most successful athlete in World Championships history with 15 medals to Bolt’s 14 but her tally of golds – 10 – is one fewer than the Jamaican’s.
A dramatic night also witnessed Australian Sally Pearson bounce back from two years of injury setbacks to win her first world title since 2011 in the women’s 100 hurdles. In a repeat of her 2012 Olympic triumph in the same stadium, Pearson dominated the race from the start and clocked 12.59.
“It's been a long journey back from injury, but to get this moment and go and celebrate in front of my family is unreal,” Pearson said.
Overnight leader Kevin Mayer of France kept his form to win the decathlon with 8768 points ahead of German Rico Freimuth with 8564 and his compatriot Kaz Kazmirek on 8488.
The women’s high jump went to Russian Maria Lasitskene, competing as an authorised neutral athlete, with 2.03m while German Johannes Vetter took gold in the men’s javelin with a throw of 89.89m.