Derbyshire were an agonising 21 runs away from securing their second victory of the LV= Division Two campaign before rain saved Essex on day four.
Chasing 223 to win, Derbyshire looked on course for the target on 202-6, however an untimely downpour arrived to dash any hopes of a positive result for either side.
Wes Durston led the way for Derby with an unbeaten 90, but the home side were unable to pace their chase with more purpose due to three early wickets from David Masters.
The wily seamer dismissed Wayne Madsen, Chesney Hughes and Usman Khawaja as Essex sensed an unlikely win with their opponents reeling on 118-5.
Earlier, Essex were dismissed for 331 in their second-innings as South African off-spinner Greg Smith finished with figures of 4-63.
Resuming on an overnight total of 282-6 , Essex moved without loss to 300 but the dismissal of Chris Wright for five triggered a tail-end collapse, with only James Foster's 37 providing any resistance.
Derbyshire picked up eight points, while Essex return south with six.
Ravi Bopara's second LV County Championship century of the season allowed Essex to open a 173-run lead by stumps on day three at Derbyshire.
Bopara, eager to impress the England selectors ahead of the first Test of the summer, hit 119 to help the visitors reach 282-6 in their second innings.
They had started the third day on 24-0 and lost Alastair Cook (25) and Mark Pettini (12) early to slump to 80-2, still behind overall.
But Bopara, who struck 14 fours and a six during his 188-ball contribution, rescued the situation alongside Jaik Mickleburgh.
The third-wicket pair added 111 and, once Mickleburgh fell lbw to Greg Smith (2-47) for 64, Matt Walker's painstaking 26 provided Bopara with further support.
Derbyshire seamer Tim Groenewald (2-58) removed both in the evening session to leave the match finely poised heading into the last day.
Derbyshire hold the edge after their lower order defied the Essex attack on day two of their LV= County Championship match at Derby.
David Masters (5-71) had reduced the hosts to 123-5, still 56 runs behind, but the likes of Greg Smith (35), Dan Redfern (34) and captain Luke Sutton (43) responded with the bat.
Earlier, Masters had removed nightwatchman Tony Palladino and Wes Durston in the space of three balls and Essex needed his performance as South Africa pace bowler Lonwabo Tsotsobe again struggled.
But Derbyshire's last five wickets added a total of 165, with Azeem Rafiq and Tim Groenewald adding 27 runs for the last wicket as they moved to 288 and earned themselves a first-innings lead of 109.
Essex had to face an awkward 10 overs before the close but Alastair Cook and Jaik Mickleburgh survived to reach 24 at stumps - 85 runs adrift.
A sixth-wicket stand of 109 between Matt Walker and James Foster saved Essex from total embarrassment on day one against Derbyshire.
England batsman Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara both had poor days as the visitors were dismissed for 179 at Derby.
Cook went for four and Bopara for a duck as Essex slumped to 28-3, which quickly became 43-5 as Derbyshire paceman Tony Palladino ripped through the top order with three wickets.
But Walker (56) and Foster (62) batted sensibly in the seamer-friendly conditions to take the score past the 150 mark before the former top-edged a sweep at Azeem Rafiq to Luke Sutton, who took four catches.
That triggered another collapse as Essex lost their last five wickets for just 27 runs, with Palladino (3-60) and Rafiq (3-24) finishing as the pick of the bowlers.
In reply, Derbyshire reached 64-2 at the close with both Chesney Hughes (six) and Usman Khawaja (23) being caught behind by Foster off the bowling of David Masters.