Less than 24 hours after a painful three-goal defeat to the Silver Ferns wrecked their hopes of a first World Cup win since 1975, Tracey Neville's team dominated their opponents with a 58-42 win.
It marked a third consecutive third-placed finish in the tournament for England, with Australia set to bid for their fourth consecutive world crown against the New Zealanders later on Sunday.
England made an impressive start in coach Neville's last match in charge, her team recovering from an early turnover to take a 14-12 lead at the end of the first quarter.
England, who beat the South Africans by nine points earlier in the tournament, shed much of the inconsistency that had proved their undoing against the Silver Ferns and continued to increase their advantage in the second quarter.
Goal shooter Helen Housby scored from all 15 of her attempts as the South Africans, despite the return of Bongiwe Msomi who had missed much of the group game due to injury, looked in danger of being cut adrift.
Recovering from missing with her first attempt of the match, Jo Harten continued to gain in accuracy and confidence as England reached the interval 29-22 in front.
Focused and clearly intent on atoning for the errors which had cost them less than 24 hours earlier, England continued to stretch their lead to 12 points midway through the third quarter.
And with South Africa coach Norma Plummer - also in her last match in charge - beginning to make changes, England continued to capitalise, with Housby stretching her perfect record to 21.
Holding a 46-32 advantage on the buzzer for the end of the third, a place back on the World Cup podium was looking inevitable for Neville's team.
Saving arguably their best performance of the competition for last, England continued to stretch their lead in the fourth and final quarter.
And there was an emotional moment with two minutes remaining when influential captain Serena Guthrie was replaced to rapturous applause, earning a hug from Neville on the touchline.
Housby finished with perfect figures of 29 from 29 as England wrapped up a convincing win and the bronze medal, yet there was still a lingering sense of what might have been.